The study of the Allegheny County Mental Health Court in Pittsburgh found that participants received more mental-health services and spent fewer days in jail than they might have if they had been sentenced in the criminal court.
They also spent fewer days in jail than they spent related to a prior arrest, according to the study by the RAND Corporation for the Council of State Governments Research Center.
By the second year after sentencing by a mental-health court, taxpayers had recouped the cost of treatment, the study found.
The courts, which seek to get mentally ill defendants the disease and drug-dependence treatment they need, are an increasingly common phenomenon, the authors write. In 1997 there were only four such courts in the United States, but there are now 120.
Advocates say the courts provide a more appropriate and cost-effective alternative for dealing with the 16 percent of people in jails who have a serious mental illness.