In prior columns, I have justifiably praised our governor for his bold and courageous efforts in advocating for the need of mental health courts across our state. This fledgling idea has taken off. Today, there are multiple counties that have mental health courts in Georgia.
However, the west Georgia area does not seem to have shown much interest in mental health courts. Troup County is the only county in our area with an active working mental health court. By the way, it is flourishing.
I encourage our local elected officials, judges, politicians, and people of influence to consider implementing a mental health court in each county in the west Georgia area. My daily first-hand experience clearly shows a tremendous need for these types of courts. I have personally handled numerous criminal cases where the defendant would significantly benefit from participation in a mental health court. In most of those cases, the prosecutor agreed with me.
But, these courts do not just help defendants. With the implementation of a mental health court, each county will eventually save money, decrease the rate of recidivism, decrease the rate of all types of crimes, decrease the number of crime victims, protect law enforcement officers, and treat the core issues that significantly contribute some criminal behavior.
The General Assembly has given our counties the power to create mental health courts by enacting O.C.G.A. 15-1-16.
According to the rules governing mental health courts in Georgia, the purpose of these courts is as follows: “Large numbers of individuals with mental illnesses come into contact with the criminal justice system, often resulting in poor outcomes such as the ineffective use of law enforcement, jail, court and correctional dollars while failing to improve public safety. Frequently, people with mental illnesses repeatedly cycle through the criminal justice system for relatively minor offenses because the underlying factors associated with their criminal activity have not been adequately addressed. While not originally intended as the primary intervention point for dealing with mental illnesses, far too often it is the courts which are called on to triage and intercede with this population due to their criminal conduct.
It is estimated that almost 17% of individuals entering local jails are suffering from some mental illness and half of all jail and state correctional detainees with mental illnesses reported three or more prior convictions.
Over the past decade, courts have explored new ways of responding to individuals with mental illnesses who appear on criminal dockets. Using lessons learned from drug courts, mental health courts were established as an attempt to link mentally ill offenders with appropriate resources in their respective communities, while providing judicial oversight and supervision.”
I don’t know who wrote the above purpose statement, but he or she could not have said it any better. Let’s bring mental health courts to west Georgia.