In this paper, the author presents ethnographic research and analysis of how criminal justice and mental health professionals interact with each other and with criminal defendants with mental illness in running a mental health court (MHC) program. Ethnographic field research included observations of court programs, interviews of professionals, and gathering of textual documents, at nine MHCs in a Midwestern state. In MHC criminal defendants with mental illness participate in a program of regular court appearances, probation supervision, and mandated treatment, rather than being incarcerated in jail or prison. The author utilized the symbolic interaction perspective and examined how the professionals work together to select participants and judge their performances. Professionals interact and share case documents in socially constructing the participant. They operate the program as a filter so that a relatively small number of the population of incarcerated persons with severe mental illness in the state successfully graduate from the program. Implications of these findings are discussed.


Mental Health Courts, Professionals, Interaction, Ethnography

Author Bio(s)

Monte D. Staton is a Research Assistant Professor in the Center for Dissemination and Implementation Science of the Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, of the University of Illinois at Chicago. After receiving a Master of Arts in Sociology with a specialty in Criminology and Deviance from Bowling Green State University, he worked for eight years in Chicago as a counselor in rehabilitation programs for persons with mental illness. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Loyola University Chicago. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: staton@uic.edu.


Funding: This project was supported in part by Grant # 06-DJ-BX-0681 and Grant # 08-DJ-BX-0034 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions contained within this document are those of the author and do not represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Publication Date


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.





To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.