A new mental health court program is now part of Culman County’s 32nd Judicial District, complementing other specialized programs the court already has to address key issues that may contribute to nonviolent criminal behavior.
Led by District Judge Greg Nicholas in partnership with other Culman County Judges and WellStone Behavioral Health, the new program launched last week as a way to give eligible criminals an alternative to jail and hopefully reunite with law enforcement. organs. Participants must apply to be considered for the program, which provides them with a responsible way to avoid imprisonment by offering them assistance in obtaining mental health services at the local level.
Culman’s judicial system already has specialized drug courts and a court for veterans of nonviolent criminals, which show the potential to benefit from help with personal problems, including major substance abuse, mental health and other conditions that could contribute to crime. activity. Those who enter the program of the Court of Mental Health must first plead guilty to their crimes. But they also have the option of dismissing their allegations altogether by reaching court-specified stages, which may include regular consultations with WellStone, for an agreed period of time.
The mental health services through the program will be provided by WellStone and the participant’s financial situation will not affect his eligibility. Any defendant who enters the program will be accommodated, regardless of their ability to pay for services, thanks to financial support from the Alabama Department of Mental Health and a grant from the Administration for Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMHSA), a branch of United States Department of Health and Human Services.
“The Mental Health Court will help make our community safer by reducing the number of crimes committed by people with mental illness,” Nicholas said in a statement announcing the new program. “Early identification of those accused of non-violent crimes who are mentally ill can provide appropriate mental health treatment through a mental health court that monitors compliance with the individualized treatment plan. Without treatment, a person’s mental health usually deteriorates, which significantly increases the likelihood of further involvement in the criminal justice system.
Addressing mental health issues as part of the defendant’s encounter with the criminal justice system marks a self-imposed judicial reform measure that is emerging across the country as an alternative to sending people with mental illness directly to prison – a punishment that may prove to be both costly and ineffective for those whose main problems persist. The programs acknowledge that defendants suffering from mental illness are overrepresented in prison populations, with data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) showing that two out of five inmates in the United States have a history of mental illness.
Nicholas noted that the Mental Health Court is a district court program for non-violent criminal defendants, a separate civil liability program administered by the Culman County Heritage Court for individuals – often affected by mental health issues – who are not charged with a crime. . Applications for the mental health court program are now available through the Culman County Attorney’s Office.
Benjamin Bullard can be reached at telephone 256-734-2131 ext. 234.