Editorial: Mental Health Courts are the Right Move

The Washington Post Editorial Board supports the movement to bring a mental health court to Montgomery County.

The county is looking to pilot a mental health court program as soon as this fall. The Post calls the move towards mental health courts “an enlightened and humane step forward in criminal justice”.

From The Washington Post editorial:

Mindful of the strain on the jail, and the futility of locking up mentally ill people who commit relatively minor crimes, the county is moving swiftly to establish mental-health courts. It’s an excellent idea; in other localities around the country and in Maryland, similar courts have cut recidivism rates by at least 20 percent and enhanced quality of treatment along with chances of recovery.

The idea, similar to existing drug courts, is to divert qualified defendants charged with nonviolent crimes — trespassing, vandalism, shoplifting, theft, public disorderliness or drunkenness — from jail to supervised treatment regimens. Designated local judges would still oversee individual cases, and prosecutors and defense attorneys would have to assent. Rather than incarceration, defendants would be assigned programs designed to treat their illnesses, with mental-health counselors substituting for jail guards. Criminal charges would typically be suspended as long as defendants stuck to prescribed medication and counseling, among other conditions.

The courts, still awaiting a final decision on county funding, would not be a panacea for a decades-long policy of deinstitutionalization that has left states and localities woefully short of hospital beds and other facilities for the mentally ill. (In Maryland, for instance, more than 80 percent of state psychiatric beds have been eliminated since 1982.) As a pilot program in Montgomery, expectations for the initial impact of the mental-health courts are modest — perhaps 200 defendants would be enrolled and spared incarceration in the first year and half, starting this fall.

Read the editorial for more information.

The crisis of mentally ill individuals in jail will be discussed at the 2016 MACo Summer Conference session “Mentally Ill and Incarcerated: A Criminal Justice Crisis“.

The MACo summer conference will be held August 17-20, 2016 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City Maryland. This year the conference’s theme is “Cyber Solutions: Counties in the Digital Age.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: