From Incarceration to Rehabilitation: Behavioral Health Court’s Mission

Who would you say is the largest mental health provider in Indiana? The answer is not a hospital or healthcare provider – shockingly, it’s the Indiana Department of Correction. Across Indiana, people with mental illness are being treated in our prison system more than in public psychiatric hospitals. While incarcerated, they might receive treatment, but not rehabilitation, usually leading to a lifetime of imprisonment simply because they have no other option.


“When we have a headache, we take an aspirin or Tylenol. That helps us. What if the only way you could get that headache to stop was by going into jail?” says Bernice Anthony, a member of United Way of Central Indiana’s Diversity Leadership Circle. “We have people incarcerated that don’t belong there. They need care, but they couldn’t get it until they were incarcerated.”


To address this ongoing issue, the Marion County Supreme Court partnered with the Indiana Judicial Center, the Indiana Department of Correction and United Way of Central Indiana to establish the Behavioral Health Court (BHC).


Since 2014, BHC has provided services and support to moderate to high-risk individuals who have been convicted and have a diagnosed mental health need in the criminal justice system. Participants progress through a four-phase program that includes more than just treatment; it provides a range of services to help participants stick to treatment, achieve sobriety, address housing issues and develop life skills so they can begin the journey of achieving stability.


Members of United Way’s Diversity Leadership Council recently participated in a visit to BHC to get a true understanding of how the court works and the impact it makes in Central Indiana. “It was obvious that several of the clients now had very stable and productive lives under this program which they didn’t have before,” says Bill Hendrix. “Unlike a normal court case, where you have prosecution and defense operating as opposing entities, in BHC they work together to ensure the best care of the client.”


BHC has been championed by Judge Barbara Cook-Crawford. Lori Arnold, a United Way employee who recently visited BHC, knows Judge Crawford has a passion for the program and its clients. “She treated them with respect, yet challenged them to take responsibility for their lives. She showed them that she believed in them, but made it clear that they were given an opportunity that was theirs to turn their lives around – or they would be removed from the program,” she says.


By connecting participants to mental health treatment, public service programs, sobriety training and skill development courses, BHC says the program, “increases self-sufficiency and the likelihood of success in the community upon completing the program.” The high level of judicial supervision keeps participants on track and accountable.


One major goal of BHC is to help those with mental health stay out of the criminal justice system. The results prove the program is working: on average, participants in BHC saw a decrease in jail days from 126 pre-referral to 36 one-year post referral.


“Behavioral Health Court helps participants not only get the treatment they need, but to become active and law-abiding community members. That is a win for all of Indiana, no matter where you live or work,” Bernice says. Thanks to the work of Marion County Supreme Court, the Indiana Judicial Center, the Indiana Department of Correction and United Way, there’s hope for those with mental illness needing rehabilitation and help.