Treatment instead of jail time: An exclusive look inside Boston's 'mental health court'

20 percent of the inmates at local and state prisons suffer from a mental health condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

It's a number one issue a local judge is hoping to cut, with a unique way of prosecuting crimes. Boston 25 News reporter Malini Basu got exclusive access to Boston's Mental Health Court, to see why more violent crime suspects with mental health concerns are getting treatment instead of jailtime.

“Many people end up in the criminal justice system because other systems have failed them and the social safety net has failed them,” Judge Kathleen Coffey told Basu.

Judge Coffey is the Specialty Courts Director for the Boston Municipal Court.  She established the program called "Recovery with Justice". The goal is get suspects suffering from mental illness and other developmental disorders help with strict supervision, instead of jailtime.

Some of the suspects are required to do different tasks, depending on their mental state of mind. One man we spoke with attends the Webster house, where he spends his time doing art work.

"Often times, mental illness has not been flagged, or has not been identified as a contributing factor,” Judge Coffey said.

More than 200 people are admitted in the program in West Roxbury. There are seven mental health courts throughout Massachusetts.


Participants told Basu they don’t just go to the courtroom to face a judge on violent charges, but that it’s also a therapy session for them to talk about their personal lives.

"Judge Coffey is pretty understanding about my addiction," participant Mario Torres told Basu.  "I had a drug problem in my past… constantly into trouble and getting arrested." 
"How many years would you say you spent in jail?" Basu asked.  "In my life, in and out, I would say 20-25 years. I look back and I have thrown my life out the window," Torres said.

Now Torres says he hopes the Recovery with Justice program will put him on a better track to a crime-free future.

“I want to be a productive member to society,” Torres said.

“We are keeping good people out of jail and within the community, recognizing that is what the court system is supposed to do. We are supposed to be here to help people,” said Judge Coffey.