After 26 years of practicing Criminal Law In Colorado it is time to intelligently address the issue of the mentally ill and their treatment in the Colorado Criminal Courts.
The costs of continually ignoring this problem are staggering.
The Denver Daily News wrote recently (March 3, 2009) that Colorado could ultimately save millions of dollars by improving mental health services for mentally ill people involved in the criminal justice system, says the group that represents Colorado’s 17 community health centers.
In 2007, Colorado spent 8.8 percent of the state’s general fund on corrections, according to Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council (CBHC).
Several Colorado mental health experts say that Denver and other cities are losing money by not allotting enough funds on community mental health services for the mentally ill who are cycled through incarceration — which costs up to $60,000 per year — instead of being treated in the community, which CBHC says costs around $6,000-$8,000 a year.
“We’re very strong proponents to get treatment to people rather than lock them up,’ said George DelGrosso, executive director of CBHC. “We can be a good investment for the state.”
Some counties, including the Arapahoe County District Attorney (18th Judicial District), have started a path breaking approach to these cases — patterned after drug courts — these mental health courts .
A press release describing the court follows:
“The 18th Judicial District Mental Health Court is a Problem Solving Court which diverts selected defendants with a mental illness into a specialized, judicially supervised, community based program that provides intensive case management and mental health treatment. Its design is based on knowledge and evidence based research from existing mental health courts across the nation and the National Consensus Project.
The mental health court was a collaborative effort by over sixty individuals and agencies with representation from The Chief Judge and the courts; the district attorney and asst. prosecutors; defense bar both private and public defender; county attorney; mental health agencies; probation; law enforcement from both counties; jail staff; county criminal justice planners, housing and pretrial; community corrections; and consumers.
The mental health court is PROBLEM SOLVING COURT which is very different from the normal ADVERSARIAL COURT process that exists in the criminal justice system. A problem solving court focuses and addresses the how and why the individual with a mental illness became involved in the criminal justice system.
The goal is to stop the revolving door of the individual with a mental illness continually going in and out of the jail and prison system and in the long run allowing the individual to graduate from the program with a better quality of life and with a more true community safety in the long run.”
One of the key founders of this court is a good friend and excellent lawyer Ginba Shimeall.
Referrals to the Mental Health Court can be made to GINA SHIMEALL, 18TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT MENTAL HEALTH COURT COORDINATOR; 7305 SOUTH POTOMAC ROOM 140(JUDICIAL SERVICES OFFICE) CENTENNIAL, COLORADO.
These new courts deserve our support and our thanks.