Examining the Application of the Principles of Therapeutic Jurisprudence in a Mental Health Court
Therapeutic jurisprudence is commonly cited as the theoretical foundation for a range of specialized problem solving courts, including Mental Health Courts (MHCs). However, studies to date have failed to explicitly examine how MHCs apply the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence. Moreover, an extensive review of the literature failed to locate a single-sourced consolidation of these principles (a “model”), which in turn, has imposed a barrier to the rigorous examination of how MHCs have applied the theory. To address both circumstances, the present study first conducted an extensive review of the literature to extract three overarching principles of therapeutic jurisprudence, including: 1) Therapeutic jurisprudence promotes supports and services in line with rehabilitation and reintegration; 2) Therapeutic jurisprudence promotes therapeutic rules and procedures over those considered anti-therapeutic; and 3) Therapeutic jurisprudence promotes therapeutic interactions over those considered anti-therapeutic. The researcher then reviewed the literature to extract indicators of how each principle is applied in a MHC setting. These principles and associated indicators were consolidated into a “MHC Model”. This Model serves as an original contribution to the literature, and is suitable for use as a rubric in examining how the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence have been applied. Guided by the MHC Model, the researcher then sought to determine how a specific MHC applies the identified principles of therapeutic jurisprudence. Data were collected through the researcher’s observation of the court and through interviews with ten subjects whose involvement covers the spectrum of services and functions provided by this MHC. Observations of the researcher and data obtained from respondents were compared to the MHC Model to establish the degree of consistency. The findings suggest that the court applied the first and second principles of therapeutic jurisprudence in a manner that is weakly consistent with the literature. The court’s application of the third principle is essentially congruent with the literature, and is therefore considered highly consistent. These findings shed light on the reality that MHCs may face constraints beyond their control that prevent rigorous application of therapeutic jurisprudence principles in line with the ideal reflected in the literature. In light of these findings, the study has been able to develop recommendations for stronger alignment with the principles, which the court might consider adopting in order to improve its functioning and, potentially, outcomes. Further, this study highlights the need for future research to consider how MHCs might best apply the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence in less than ideal circumstances.