MENDOCINO COUNTY: Mental Health Court in the Works
Mendocino County officials plan to establish a mental health court in an effort to keep minor criminals with mental health problems from repeatedly entering the criminal justice system, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports. The county's Board of Supervisors today is expected to approve an application for a $150,000 18-month federal grant to fund a psychiatrist, coordinator and case manager for the court. Only offenders who commit minor crimes would be eligible for the system. Candidates would forgo jail, receiving instead one year of close supervision by a mental health case manager and mandated court visits to report on their progress. Those who do not comply, or fail to take their medication, would be sentenced to jail time. Mendocino County Public Defender Jeff Thoma explained, "If we can treat these people early when they commit minor crimes, then we can stop them from committing serious offenses because of their mental health."
Stop the Revolving Door
Gary Hudson of the Sheriff's Office added that most minor offenders with mental health problems do not have access to long- term treatment and thus become embroiled in a "revolving door" cycle with the criminal justice system. He believes the court would have a "significant, positive impact." In response to recent criticism about local law enforcement's handling of people with mental illness, court staffers also would train officers in dealing with them and would help develop protocol for reacting to emergencies. Currently, about 20% of county inmates suffer from mental disorders. San Bernardino County is the only other state county to have a mental health court (Wang, 1/4).