Monday, July 28, 2008

Mental Health Court Approved for Smith County!

From Tyler Paper:

Pilot Program for Mental Health Court Approved
By ROY MAYNARDStaff WriterSmith County commissioners today laid the groundwork for a pilot mental health court, which will seek to divert non-violent mentally ill arrestees from the criminal justice system.
“It’s a crisis every county in Texas is facing now,” said Dr. David Self, chief forensic psychiatrist for the Rusk State Hospital. “Far too many mentally ill people are finding their way into the criminal justice system.”
Budget cuts at the state and federal levels have reduced resources for care for those with serious mental illnesses, he said.
“If they’re not being served in mental health system, they’re finding their way into the criminal justice system,” Self said. “Jail populations are typically 25 to 33 percent persons who are experiencing mental illness. Smith County falls right in there.”And jails aren’t where the mentally ill should be, he added.“Jails don’t do a good job of treating the seriously mentally ill, but that’s not their fault,” Self said. “That’s not what they’re designed for.”Most mentally ill inmates are in jail on non-violent misdemeanor offenses, he said.Valerie Holcomb, with the Andrews Center, said such inmates are much more expensive to incarcerate.“It costs twice as much to keep a mentally ill inmate (in jail) and they stay in jail three times longer,” she said.But a mental health court, which would focus on intensive supervised probation, can save the county money.“How much does it cost? The short answer is, it depends,” she said. “How much does it cost, versus how much does it cost to house a mentally ill inmate in jail? Research indicates there is improved public safety, and it reduces recidivism and jail costs.”Commissioners responded positively to the idea.“I’m very interested in the program,” County Judge Joel Baker said. “This ties in with (consultant) Carter Goble Lee’s recommendations on ways to maintain a lower jail population. I’ll do anything I can to help.”“I’m in support,” agreed Commissioner Bobby Van Ness. “It would be a win-win situation for both the jail and for public safety.”Commissioners voted unanimously to create a pilot program. No funding was provided, because participation by Smith County officials will be voluntary. Baker himself, who handles probate and mental competency hearings already, will serve as the court’s judge. A task force will be created to research other mental health courts and begin applying for grants. The pilot program will be limited to five to 10 participants during the first year.“We’re all focused on the jail population, and that’s a nice side benefit, but the focus of this is getting these people proper care,” said Commissioner Bill McGinnis. “And that’s what I’d like to see.”

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