Committee approves mental health courts legislation

Mental health courts could be more easily established in Michigan under legislation approved today in the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bills 4694 through 4697 would statutorily create mental health courts in Michigan law. Rep. Kevin Cotter, sponsor of HB 4694 and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, applauded the passage of the bills.

"It has been proven that alternative courts, especially mental health courts, are effective at helping individuals become productive members of society," said Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant. "Establishing mental health courts in Michigan law can help us reduce the number of repeat offenders and divert individuals out of the criminal justice system."

Rep. Gail Haines, sponsor of HB 4695, believes mental health courts can do a better job of helping people with a mental illness find treatment.

"Prisons should not serve as hospitals for people suffering from a mental illness," said Haines, R-Waterford. "Eighteen to 20 percent of our prison population suffers from a mental illness. That is far too high, and these bills will help change that."

Rep. John Walsh, sponsor of HB 4696, said the legislation will help individuals suffering from an illness turn their lives around.

"These programs help individuals that can receive better treatment than they can get through prison," said Walsh, R-Livonia. "The proven success of these programs show us that now is the time to expand mental health courts, and this legislation is a step in the right direction."

Rep. Margaret O'Brien, sponsor of HB 4697, points to the success of mental health courts in Kalamazoo County as a reason for expanding them in Michigan.

"Kalamazoo County has always been at the forefront of judicial innovations, and the county's mental health court has been a resounding success for taxpayers and non-violent offenders who are mentally ill," said O'Brien, R-Portage. "This type of model should be used throughout Michigan, and I'm pleased to help sponsor legislation to give county courts the tools needed to establish mental health courts."

The bills are now up for consideration in the full House.

Published: Mon, Sep 16, 2013