The coordinator for Daviess County’s newly created mental health court program will officially begin work on Thursday.
Rachel Pate recently retired from the county’s public defender law office to become the coordinator for mental health court, which will be presided over by current District Judge Lisa Payne Jones.
Pate said the local rules for the new court program are not yet final and she plans to meet with additional agencies and officials that could assist the program through August. Pate said the hope is to be ready to start taking clients in September.
Some area agencies working with mental health court include Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, RiverValley Behavioral Health and Audubon Area Community Services.
The idea behind mental health court is to intervene in criminal court cases where the defendant is believed to suffer from a mental health issue, to get them treatment and out of incarceration.
For those ruled incompetent to stand trial, mental health court would work to find permanent placements where they could receive treatment. Currently, a person found incompetent is sent to a state mental hospital to be stabilized and is then released.
For others in the program, court officials will create a treatment plan that will be enforceable by the judge. Those treatment plans will include staying on medication and going to therapy. The court could require some defendants to maintain employment.
If a person follows their treatment plan, the criminal charge against him or her could be diverted. Participation in the program could also be part of a defendant’s probation.
People referred to the program will be given a screening and evaluated by mental health professionals to see if they fit the program.
“If they are not appropriate (for mental health court), the difference with our court is we are able to make recommendations back to the judge” on what other services could help the defendant, Pate said.
People selected for the program will have been judged to have a serious mental illness or significant cognitive impairment, but have been found competent to stand trial. The screening process should take out people who have drug-induced psychosis or are faking a mental illness.
“We are going to look at people’s history, their criminal history and their substance abuse history” to get a full picture of the defendant’s life, Pate said.
Treatment plans will include more than just medication and therapy. Pate said a goal of mental health court is to find resources for defendants, such as housing, for those who need it. A partner in the program is St. Benedict’s Homeless Shelter.
“Once our clients are released from jail, if they don’t have safe housing, we will have safe housing for them,” Pate said.
Pate said Audubon Area Community Services will play an important role in helping people chosen for mental health court apply for Medicaid to pay for medication and treatment. The treatment plans will be enforceable by the court, and Jones will meet with defendants in the program regularly in the early stages, she said.
“It will be an individualized treatment plan because every individual is not the same,” Pate said. “… The defendants will have rules to follow to be allowed to continue with mental health court.”
The program is being founded on a $70,000 grant provided by the state Department of Corrections, with an additional $10,000 from RiverValley Behavioral Health. State corrections officials want regular data on how the court is proceeding, particularly how much money the program is saving by reducing defendants’ time in county jails and prisons.
“It’s stopping criminal activity, and that’s huge,” Pate said. “It saves money. Jails cost money.”
The hope is the data will convince corrections officials to fund the program on a larger scale in the future so a case manager can be hired to assist Pate.
The program has a broader benefit besides reducing crime and lowering the amount the state and county pay to incarcerate inmates with mental health disorders.
“This allows individuals to make changes to their life … but by helping that one individual, we are helping the community,” Pate said. “When that individual becomes employed, they are giving back … I’m really excited about the opportunity this can provide our community as a whole.”