jump to navigation

County Faces Expansion Of Mental Health Court Needs September 23, 2010

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Recognizing that the corrections system is not usually the best way to get needed treatment for people with mental health issues, Washington County continues to build partnerships between the criminal justice system and other community agencies to help those with mental illnesses avoid hospitalization or jail for crimes committed as a result of their conditions.

Chief among these efforts is the county Mental Health Court, a partnership between Washington County Circuit Court, law enforcement, parole and probation and the department of health and human services.

The Mental Health Court team consists of Judge Marco Hernandez, Kristin Burke, the county health department’s adult mental health senior program coordinator, two staff from county, an assistant district attorney, a public defender, a Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy and a program manager from a contracted nonprofit mental health services agency.

Potential clients meet with the defense attorney, who discusses the details of the program — including living in approved housing, taking medications as prescribed, agreeing not to use drugs or alcohol and obeying the law.

Attending counseling or therapy, including sobriety groups, is required, and participants are expected to look for work.

Meeting others with a wide range of mental illnesses forges connections that help clients remain successful in the community long after they graduate, says program coordinator Joe Simich, a county Probation and Parole Services supervisor.

“We have people who suffer from disorders like bi-polar disorder, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia,” Simich said. “But once people have committed to take their medications and stay away from drugs or alcohol, they are on a road to living safely in the community.”

In the early stages of the program, the aim is attaining stability. Clients may be subject to random drug and alcohol tests during twice-monthly meetings, both with Hernandez and a probation officer.

In Phase 2, clients who are able to work pay part of their court expenses and may have to pay restitution to people they have harmed. People on Social Security might donate part of their benefits toward restitution.

But the greatest focus of Phase 2 is supervised community service, to benefit both the nonprofit agencies that work with mental health consumers, Simich said. Court visits are reduced to only once each month.

Once reaching Phase 3, their goal is to maintain their stability for at least another four months to successfully complete the program. In Phase 3, only one visit to the probation officer is expected each month.

The clients benefit by dealing with the same judge on each visit, Simich said.

Briefed before each Mental Health Court session, Hernandez is familiar with the conditions and prognosis for each client.

While justice is swift, Hernandez enthusiastically supports the progress that the clients make toward managing their mental health and gaining long term sobriety.

The Mental Health Court team is working for opportunities to increase funding to expand the 33-client mental health program.

Another mental health justice program looking to expand is the Forensic Assertive Community Treatment team.

Wanting to reach people who have been in and out of jail multiple times, the FACT program concentrates on those who are difficult to get into traditional treatment.

Treatment comes to the person who is ill rather than expecting them to show up to appointments, and the treatment happens in a supported living environment outside of jail rather than in jail, says Miranda Powell, who leads a team that includes a physician, a Washington County probation officer, two M.A. level therapists, two B.A. level mental health associates, a nurse and a substance abuse professional. Participants often are jailed for “nuisance crimes” such as trespass or abuse of the 911 medical system.

Powell, who ran a similar program in Washington, D.C. says, “the program uses common sense, support in the natural community. It brings services to them, and is available 24 hours a day.”



no comments yet - be the first?