I just read about a mental health court that recently started in Shelby County, Tennessee, home to Tennessee's largest city, Memphis. Similar in operation to Veterans' Court or Drug, it serves those with severe mental illness who also are involved in the criminal justice system or a frequent basis.
It seems like a wonderful idea to me. I don't know the "actual" statistics, but I read in an article on News Channel 3 WREG"s website a quote of the judge in charge of the Mental Health Court. He said, and I am paraphrasing, 1 percent of the jail's population, that being the severely mentally ill, uses 13% of the jail's resources.
And here you have the only reason this court was started. Instead of the "lock em up and throw away the key" mentality, now people are looking at it from a dollars and sense standpoint. Treating the mentally ill IS expensive, just as is treating drug addicts. THe social cost of treating these people has to be much better than just housing them in jail. They get out, and do the same things that got them in jail in the first place, when a contributing cause is not addressed. If you have a chronic health problem that causes you to be in the hospital all of the time, wouldn't you try and treat it so you wouldn't have to keep going back to the hospital. Sure the treatment might be expensive, but the costs of the hospitalization far more expensive. Same thing here.
Remember this, when a mentally ill person or drug addict commits a low level non violent crime, such as shoplifting, the societal cost is huge. The store has security features and staff that adds to the over all cost of merchandise for everyone. They have to take time out for prosecuting these cases. Law enforcement is involved with that as well. Then there are the court resources that go into it. The costs, in one way or another, is borne by everyone.