Statewide, about 20 courts are dedicated to defendants with mental health problems and now a court in Troup County will be among them.
The Georgia Accountability Courts awarded a grant in 2011 to Troup County for the implementation and start up of a local mental health court, which will go into practice next month.
“The mental health court is a program that was established because people were noticing that a lot of inmates had mental illnesses, and they were going through the system with repeat offenses,” said Troup County Mental Health Court Coordinator Tiffany Hutchinson. “The mental health court program is a way for them to get treatment for their mental illness and not be in jail.”
The court handles non-violent misdemeanors and felony cases, however, defendants charged with murder, armed robbery, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation and child molestation are not eligible. The mental health court team also will determine eligibility based on the history of the defendant and the details of the offense, but still have to meet all requirements.
A clinician at the jail makes assessments and psychological evaluations to see if the inmates have a mental illness, Hutchinson said. If they do, depending on their offense, they may be referred to the mental health court team or eligible for mental health court.
“The jails were saying that they had individuals that were there that really didn’t need to be in jail and the hospitals had indicated that people were at hospitals that really didn’t need to be there,” said Troup County Mental Health Court Supervisor John Lueken. “So, as a way to help individuals stay stable in the community in the hopes of them not re-offending, the community partnerships decided that a mental health court would be beneficial for Troup County.”
The program offers incentives for good behavior and sanctions for participants who don’t follow the requirements of the program.Sanctions include community service, increased treatments, reduced curfew, increased home checks and serious non-compliance can result in incarceration.
Law enforcement and probation officers will conduct sporadic home checks on participants, and the treatment team at Pathways will be available to provide counseling and medications to the defendants. Court days are designed for the judge to discuss treatments, check up on the defendants and to make sure they are complying with their designated protocol and to observe any progress.
“As a group, we have to keep the community safe,” Lueken said. “It is strictly an avenue to help individuals in jail who have committed a crime that may have a mental health issue. It’s to help them become stable to attend mental health and/or substance abuse groups and to reduce the recidivism rate into our jail system. That, in a nutshell, is the ultimate goal.”
Court days are set once a month, with each case expected to last an hour. The first mental health court session for Troup County is scheduled for Feb. 26, and all cases are closed to the public.