A recent study in the journal Health & Justice, investigated gender differences in response to a mental health recovery court program, an alternative justice system for people with mental health issues. The study revealed that justice-involved women with mental health diagnoses had larger general and mental health gains than their male peers.
People who qualify for mental health recovery court programs have abnormally high rates of hospitalizations and chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity and this is especially true for justice-involved women.
That is why Catherine Kothari, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Western Michigan University School of Medicine, collaborated with Catherine Cerulli, J.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester and director of the Susan B. Anthony Center, and Diane Morse, M.D., internal medicine physician, and assistant professor of psychiatry at University of Rochester, on this retrospective study. The authors analyzed pre- and post-data of indirect health and criminality measures from women and men in the Mental Health Recovery Court of Kalamazoo County Michigan.
Women in the study tended to be in poorer health than the male participants prior to the program. After completing the program, women’s hospitalization rates had plummeted, whereas men’s rates of hospitalization had actually increased. Women also showed more drastic drops in psychiatric hospitalizations and emergency department visits after completing the program than the men in the study.
Kothari explains this gender disparity with a very simple relationship: “The sicker [participants] were, the more they responded to the program – if they were more sick than they were criminal, they had really great responses.” The fact that justice-involved women have a higher likelihood of being in poor health and tend to commit less serious crimes than men, sets them up to benefit more from these types of programs.
Study authors say their findings suggest that gender-focused programming that integrates mental and physical health support could maximize the potential of mental health recovery courts. However, this study was performed on a single program in a single location. Whether these findings can be extrapolated to other mental health court programs has yet to be determined. Nonetheless, similar gender-dependent findings in previous studies of drug recovery courts suggest that these results are on target.