How A Mental Health Court Handles A Tangled Case


Tara McDonald, then 35, was arrested in 2002 for grabbing babies in strollers in New York City’s Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, reports The Village Voice. By then, she had a five-time arrest record dating to the 1980s for incidents involving plastic rain covers over children in strollers. Each time, psychiatrists determined she was too mentally ill to be prosecuted, so she was referred to the Department of Mental Health. Her criminal case was then dismissed because she’d been charged with only a misdemeanor or low-level felony. Usually she ended up spending a few months in the Rikers Island jail.

Eventually, she was transferred to Mental Health Court, a new alternative for mentally ill defendants. This court’s mission is to keep mentally ill people out of the prison system by hooking them up with mental health services in the community–residential or outpatient programs. The Voice tells the story of how McDonald has spent more than 1,000 days locked up without a conviction. After entering “Alford pleas” that she didn’t actually admit intending to kidnap anyone, she will spend five years in a program called The Bridge and another three years on probation.


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