Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kathleen Hanrahan, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Erika Frenzel, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

John Gibbs, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Alida Merlo, Ph.D.


When support mechanisms that keep mentally ill offenders from committing crimes break down, many of these special offenders have been incarcerated, contributing to a decline in their welfare and problems for society upon their release. Like drug courts, mental health courts arose in response to a crisis, allowing these offenders to be diverted from jail and instead directed to appropriate treatment and supports, along with intensive probationary controls. Restorative justice and therapeutic jurisprudence underpin the diversion of mentally ill offenders back into the community. This study examined the inception of a specific large mental health court and the inner working of the courtroom workgroup formed to handle the dual duty of treatment and regulation of offenders with serious mental illness. Creation of the mental health court in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, occurred after a formal program had already been in place to assist mentally ill offenders in treatment while diverting them from jail, and allows for longer periods of probation and monitoring of participants. The research employed in-depth qualitative inquiry of past and present stakeholders in the court process, including semi-structured interviews with court team members and participants, observation of courtroom and workgroup behavior in both public and private settings, and document analysis, and triangulated data with various court and agency records of court characteristics and participant behavior. Primary goals of this case study were to add to the literature on this emerging area of criminal justice research on problem-solving courts, by probing a specific local decision to implement and fund a mental health court, by delving deeply into the formation and functioning of this court's workgroup and the experiences of its participants, and by illustrating possible improvements in the case processing model that might be accomplished for this and other courts. Implications include what might be necessary and appropriate for a mental health court to be founded and to operate successfully, regarding both treatment of mentally ill offenders and regulation of their behavior for community safety. Findings may be useful to assist jurisdictions contemplating a mental health court, respecting court and agency personnel, case processing, community treatment resources, participant pools, sanctions systems, and funding.