Mental health court opens for business

Macomb County Circuit Court will launch a mental health court docket this week aimed at helping defendants get community-based treatment, according to court officials.

“This method of addressing mentally ill offenders offers a great deal of hope,” said Probate Court Judge Carl Marlinga, who is scheduled to begin screening candidates for his docket on Tuesday.

“We can change their lives for the better,” Marlinga said in a news release issued by the court. “At the same time, we can protect our communities by making it far less likely that these defendants will commit future crimes.”

The mental health court will utilize both court and community resources to connect the defendant with the best and most appropriate treatment options available, while at the same time requiring accountability for the underlying crime.

Following an assessment and acceptance, the defendant will be diverted into the mental health court docket for judicially-supervised community-based treatment.

The mental health court will initially be available for adult offenders, with plans to expand to juvenile offenders.

“Part of our public safety mission is reaching out to low-risk individuals in our criminal justice system with a history of mental illness,” said Prosecutor Eric Smith.  

Along with Marlinga and Smith, others working on the blueprint for the new court have been Macomb County Chief Judge John Foster and Circuit Court Judges Kathryn George and  Matthew Switalski along with Macomb County Executive Mark A. Hackel, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham as well as the Macomb County Community Mental Health and Macomb County Community Corrections Departments. The docket is a key component of a countywide mental health initiative that has the support of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners.

The mission of the mental health court is to improve public safety and reduce recidivism by criminal defendants who suffer from severe mental illnesses, officials said.

“The Community Mental Health Department recognizes the importance of mental health courts and other diversion programs to reduce the involvement of individuals with severe and persistent mental illness in the criminal justice system,” said Jim Losey, deputy director of Macomb County Community Mental Health. “We are excited to partner with the court and other involved agencies to provide these services to those with severe mental illness.”

According to a recent report released by the State Court Administrator’s Office (SCAO), mental health courts have achieved great success, with mental health participants’ recidivism rate well over 300 percent lower than that of a comparison group of similar offenders.

The SCAO has awarded a grant of $108,370 for the 2014 fiscal year in support of the mental health court.

For eligibility criteria and more information on the court, visit https://sites.google.com/a/macombgov.org/macomb-county-mental-health-court/ or e-mail Lisa Ellis, court services director, at lisa.ellis@macombgov.org.

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