February 25, 2005

Mental Health Courts Spreading

With the number of people with bipolar disorder in jail skyrocketing in the past decade (while, coincidentally, hospital facilities and resources available to treat the mentally ill have fallen dramatically) its on a rare positive note that people are finally recognizing the special needs of the mentally ill when it comes to minor criminal offenses.

This week Harris County, Texas, judges may create a mental health court to provide specialized legal consideration and treatment for those with diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychotic episodes.

Harris county's felony court judges have asked the Legislature for $236,000 for a full-time court coordinator and a mental health expert. The move is an attempt to expand an existing informal mental health program.

"We need to give appropriate treatment for people who are sick, and these people are just sick," state District Judge Jan Krocker told the Houston Chronicle. "They are not going to make their probation if they don't get extra encouragement and extra supervision. If we can help all these people on probation, they won't have to go to jail." The judge hopes the Harris County mental health court could be operational by September.

The mental health court would be similar to Harris County's drug court created in 2003. The judges are looking at the court as an alternative to save money and reduce crime in the face of dwindling prison and jail space in Texas.

In Idaho they are also setting up mental health courts. The Idaho court was started by Judge Brent Moss. He told ABC News that he "tired of seeing drug addicts sent to prison, without treatment, when many were trying to self-medicate to control a mental illness they did not understand."

The judge realized that mentally ill defendants were not getting the help they needed and he thought they were getting in prison.

"I was naive," Moss said to ABC News.

Well, there are still a lot of naive judges out there - in all countries of the world.

Advocates are starting to change this now. In the US, NAMI seems to have been pushing this as an issue hard (Thanks to Ron Honberg's and others in the NAMI legal group).

For more information, see the following web links:

Survey of Mental Health Courts

Google News on Mental Health Courts


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