While Georgia has made significant progress with “aacountability courts” like drug and DUI courts, we are still lagging behind on perhaps the most important type of court; mental health courts.
My experience shows a tremendous need for these types of courts. I have 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.
Additionally, 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. One county in the west Georgia area recently recognized the need for a mental health court in their county. Court officials in Troup County (LaGrange) say that police get over 100 calls a year relating to those with mental health issues, including disturbance calls where someone arms themselves with a weapon and threatens suicide or other family members. Mental health court officials in Troup County, studied the mental health courts in other counties before implementing their own mental health court. They found that where there were outpatient treatment resources and that outpatient treatment was significant, there was a reduction in police – offender encounters. It was time to make the move. Three cities in the county donated seed money to jump start the program. Soon thereafter, the state saw the value in it and took over providing funding for the court. Funding covers all patients’ medication and recovery costs as well as drug-screening costs. They accepted their first client in January 2013 and has since produced successful outcomes every year. The mental health court admits those who have a mental illness as their primary diagnosis and are consistently through the system and not being treated. It is a 12-18 month program. Many of the participants are struggling with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Though the program is for those with mental illnesses.
Paarticipants go through rigorous monitoring where they are drug tested twice a week (alcohol and drugs are oftentimes involved in mental health cases), attend weekly or monthly counseling sessions, have to abide by their medication treatment, and keep all doctor and counseling appointments. Once a month, the program holds court where a superior court judge administers rewards or sanction according to their month's performance and behavior. Judge Quillian Baldwin put it best when he said, "If we can help them resolve that mental issue, there is a good chance that they won't keep coming back and getting in trouble. If we help any of them, we've done something worthwhile. Now is the time for other counties in west Georgia to consider implementing mental health courts. Troup County has shown our state that this type of court can be a vital success.