Ingham joins ranks of mental health court programs

MASON, Mich. (AP) -- Ingham County's 55th District Court has joined the ranks of courts opting for treatment of mentally ill defendants instead of sending them to jail.

The mental health court program was started in October with a $261,000 state grant, making it one of at least 19 in the state steering defendants into treatment for mental illness, according to the Lansing State Journal.

"It needs to be done. It's the right thing to do," Judge Tom Boyd told the newspaper. "Our goal is to identify people who have committed crimes -- or been convicted of committing crimes -- who wouldn't, if they were medication- and treatment plan-compliant."

Defendants with serious mental illnesses must agree to participate. Only defendants convicted of misdemeanor offenses qualify. The program offers treatment, and help finding housing, employment and health care.

Maj. Sam Davis of the Ingham County Jail said that mentally ill inmates have a dramatic impact on the jail he oversees.

"My hope is that mental health court is going to stabilize folks who become problematic in the community, who come to us and we're ill-equipped to serve them," Davis said.

A three-year study of 10 Michigan mental health courts by the State Court Administrative Office found that mental health courts can help prevent people from committing new crimes.

"The criminal justice system isn't designed to treat people with mental health issues," Ionia County Circuit Judge David Hoort said. He started the state's first mental health court in 2007.

Seven defendants were in the program as of last week for crimes that included shoplifting, drunken driving, and an assault with a victim who wasn't seriously injured.

They hope to add up to five a month, with a maximum of 60 in the program.

"This is a cost-effective way to predict and prevent crime," Boyd said.

Published: Tue, Jan 28, 2014