Mental Health Court
Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH COURT?
Mental Health Court is a court supervised treatment program for defendants with serious mental health conditions and, more often than not, a long history of repeat incarcerations, hospitalizations, and homelessness.
In our community, as throughout most of the nation, the default mental health treatment facility is the jail. This is an inhumane way to treat the mentally ill and a costly way to manage the criminal justice system. The goal of the Mental Health Court is to alleviate both of these problems.
HOW IS MENTAL HEALTH COURT DIFFERENT FROM THE TRADITIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM?
The goal of the traditional system is to prove guilt and incarcerate the offender. The goal of Mental Health Court is for offenders to take personal responsibility by cooperating in their long-term mental health treatment and taking maximum possible control of their daily life.
HOW DOES THE TREATMENT WORK?
Mental Health Court participants voluntarily submit to several specific requirements over a minimum 24 month period
• Attend regular court reviews with the Judge, court staff, defense attorney and assistant district attorney
• Maintain strict compliance with drug protocols
• Attend group counseling sessions several times a week
• If appropriate, submit to random drug screens
• Remain employed or engage in volunteer activities
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE PARTICIPANT FAILS TO MEET THE CONDITIONS OF THE PROGRAM?
If the participant fails to abide by the conditions of the program the Judge and the team hold the participant accountable and sanctions apply.
IF MENTAL HEALTH COURT DID NOT EXIST, WHAT WOULD NORMALLY HAPPEN TO THIS PERSON?
Normally, he or she would be found guilty, either serve time or submit to supervision by an overworked probation officer, then promptly re-offend and repeat the cycle of law-breaking, jails, prisons, hospitals, homelessness, and visits to emergency rooms. Furthermore, mental health participants are frequent victims of violent crime and abuse.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR MENTAL HEALTH COURT?
Mental Health Court works with adult felony or misdemeanor offenders who are seriously mentally ill (i.e., diagnosed with an Axis I disorder), developmentally disabled or who have suffered a traumatic brain injury. Applicants to the program must be approved by their counsel and by the district attorney. Those with pending violent sexual offenses are ineligible for this program.
IS MENTAL HEALTH COURT SUCCESSFUL?
Yes. Mental Health Court is in its third year of operation. In a study conducted by criminologists at Armstrong Atlantic University and Mars Hill University, participants evaluated after two years in the program had a 99% decrease in criminal charges. Similarly, hospital admissions for this population were reduced by 96% and jail time by 97%. The cost savings from Mental Health Court (including court, jail and hospitals) amounted to over $1.6 million.
The program works because participants are self-selecting and motivated, the standards are high and strict, the focus is on personal responsibility and accountability, and the treatment is individualized.
HOW DOES MENTAL HEALTH COURT HELP THE INDIVIDUAL?
Mental Health Court interrupts the repeat offender cycle that is so characteristic of individuals with serious mental illness. By way of its proven system of requirements, incentives and sanctions, it puts individuals on the road to recovery, stability and good citizenship.
HOW DOES MENTAL HEALTH COURT HELP THE COMMUNITY?
- It saves money.
First, while the offender is in the program, he or she is not in jail. It costs taxpayers $58 per day to incarcerate an individual in the Chatham County Jail, not including the cost of medical care if the individual has special medical needs, such as diabetes. In contrast, Mental Health Court costs taxpayers approximately $9.72 per day ($3.79 is paid from Chatham County budgets). Second, for each graduate of the Mental Health Court program, the number of days in the future that he or she would otherwise have spent in jail represents a savings of $59 per day
- It reduces crime.
Without Mental Health Court, the offender would have committed some unknown number of crimes in, say, the next twenty years of recycling through the system. With Mental Health Court, those crimes – and their costs to the community -- don’t occur. The offenders who successfully complete the Mental Health Court program have a substantial reduction in criminal charges, which not only benefits the community but save tax-payer dollars.
- It salvages lives and promotes citizenship.
Mental Health Court is a means for us as a community to answer the imperative of common decency in helping people who want help, ask for help, and are willing to work for it. It allows a person who has lost his or her sense of personal dignity, and become a liability to society, to regain that sense of worth and become a productive citizen. Instead of being punished for a condition they can’t help, our fellow citizens can be happy and productive in spite of it.
- It restores family relationships
Whether the participant is a husband, wife, son or daughter, families are restored to a a sense of trust and security knowing their family member is safe.
WHO RUNS THE PROGRAM AND HOW CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
Mental Health Court is part of a larger umbrella of Accountability Courts in Chatham County. Contact information:
Steve Brown, Coordinator
133 Montgomery Street, Room 616
Fax: (912) 652-7130