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Municipal Courts: An Effective Tool for Diverting People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders from the Criminal Justice System

The opportunity for diverting offenders with mental illness and substance abuse disorders from the criminal justice system when they have their first appearance in a municipal court is explained. Sections of this publication include: introduction; Sequential Intercept Model (SIM); municipal courts-definition and caseloads; municipal courts as a venue for diversion of people with mental and substance use disorders; challenges to the use of municipal courts for diversion-case volume, time constraints and lack of leverage, and the mature of municipal courts; what the essential elements for effective diversion are-identification and screening, court-based clinician as the boundary spanner-linkage component, recovery-based engagement strategies, and proportional response; a municipal court achieving effective diversion-Seattle Municipal Mental Health Court; a municipal court achieving effective diversion-Midtown Community Court in New York City; a municipal court achieving effective diversion-Misdemeanor Arraignment Diversion Project in New York City; and summary. "Municipal courts that implement these four essential elements-Identification and Screening, Court-Based Clinician, Recovery-Based Engagement, and Proportional Response-are in the position to minimize the criminal justice system involvement and reduce unnecessary incarceration of people with mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders as well as facilitate engagement or re-engagement in mental health and substance use disorder services" (p. 12).