Midland County launches new mental health court

MIDLAND (WJRT) (1/23/2020) - Midland County launched a new mental health court on Thursday and joins a long list of other communities doing the same across the state.

Midland County Launches Mental Health Court

County officials met Thursday morning to discuss the new program and review some of the first possible cases.

Midland County Judge Stephen Carras said the new program will help people who have run-ins with the law and who are suffering from a mental illness by matching them with treatment instead of throwing them in jail.

"The idea is by closely monitoring treatment compliance and keeping close tabs on them in terms of other probationary requirements that we can do better," he said. "We can keep them out of jail, keep them on their medications."

Carras has been on the bench for 13 years and said there is a large need for this type of program in Midland County.

"We have a lot of people who are in trouble. A lot of people who are on probation. A lot of people who are convicted of crimes," he said. "They may have a lot of things going on but we can see clearly that one of those main issues is a mental health disorder."

Midland County Prosecutor J. Dee Brooks said the program is a step in the right direction to prevent repeat offenders with mental health disorders from staying in the system.

"If we get somebody who keeps coming back into the system largely due to their mental illness, that could be effectively treated so they are not coming back into the system," he said. "[If] they are not committing crimes and they are not hurting anyone, then we have really accomplished what we are trying to do."

The program will also have a larger impact on the community by lowering crime, Brooks said.

"This is a chance to really accomplish something positive," he said. "Protect the community and prevent having to spend additional resources time and time again."

People who could be eligible for the new mental health court will be referred to the court by their attorney, law enforcement, the prosecutor's office, jail or treatment provider. A mental health assessment will then take place, if one has not already been completed.

The case would then be reviewed by the court to determine the next steps.

According to Brooks, there are limitations to the program. Someone who has committed sexual assault or the crime of violence that resulted in the serious injury of someone will not be eligible for the program.

Carras said the program will work with mental health treatment centers to provide counseling or medications for those in the program.

"What I know is we can do better than what we are doing now," he said. "And I can't say we are going to fix everyone, that's not realistic, but what we can do is do better for all of these people."

This court is similar to the mental health court that was created in October 2007 in Genesee County.

According to Genesee County Judge Jennie Barkey, there have been nearly 800 cases and more than 300 graduates from the county's program. She said there have been great results from the program.

"On more than one occasion, I have run the video of the first time I’ve met somebody in the program on their graduation day and it’s day and night," she said. "And they look up and they vaguely recall that person. And I always tell them, I don’t ever want to meet that person again.”