PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. - This week, Pierce County District Court announced its newly formed Mental Health Court (MHC) and started accepting referrals on Monday.
It’s part of a broader movement around court innovation that tries to break the cycle of recidivism by offering evidence-based practices and wrap around services to individual who qualify.
People suffering from a mood or thought disorder who are charged with a qualifying misdemeanor offense are eligible for the program.
"We’ve seen a very urgent need to address people who come to the criminal justice system who suffer from mental health disorders," said Judge Kevin McCann. "We decided that the current approach just isn’t working, so it was time to make a change, to view a different approach, so we don’t see same people coming back into the system without ever addressing the underlying concerns."
Karen Benson, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney assigned to Felony Mental Health Court, helped implement and design the misdemeanor Mental Health Court.
"They’re required to appear for court weekly, they have therapy weekly, they might have substance use treatment anywhere from three to four days a week to one day a week depending, they have daily case management and for many people they haven’t had that kind of oversight responsibility ever or in a long time," said Benson.
The objective of the MHC program is to reduce recidivism by combining court supervision, probation and mental health treatment by collaborating with members from both the criminal justice system and mental health treatment providers.
"Public safety, reducing recidivism, building a sense of community and belonging and really connecting people to this place--this great place we live in the Pacific Northwest," said Aimee Champion, COO at Pierce County Alliance.
Michael Mohn graduated from Pierce County Drug Court which is also a therapeutic court program and said it transformed his life for the better.
"Using drugs was just like a mask for what I was really dealing with. I had a problem with me. It wasn’t a problem with drugs and alcohol. I used drugs and alcohol because I had a problem with me," said Mohn.
Mohn is now seven years sober and said his biggest accomplishments since graduating are getting his kids back, becoming a business owner and soon he’ll be marrying his best friend.
"I was by myself when I started, but by graduation I had built this recovery, therapeutic, healthy family that came and supported me so it was a celebration. It was super meaningful, I still think about it from time-to-time on my sobriety birthday," said Mohn.
Stakeholders of MHC include the Pierce County Alliance, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Department of Assigned Counsel, Pierce County District Court Probation Office and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.