Harris County, Tx., courts in Houston have started a mental health court, an intensive supervision program to help people with mental health problems complete their probation and continue treatment, reports the Houston Chronicle. Officials also hope the new program will help ease crowding in the county jail and state prisons, where probation violators often end up. “It’s win-win for everybody,” said Kathleen Williams of the county’s Community Supervision and Corrections Department. Judge Marc Carter helps preside in the court at the request of Judge Mark Kent Ellis, who helped develop the program and splits the caseload with Carter. Thus far, 32 people have been enrolled in the yearlong program.
Ellis, who worked with county probation and mental health officials for more than a year to develop the program, said prisons and jails offer mental health treatment, but more effective care is available from county social services. In Harris County, about 40 percent of the people on probation get it revoked for violating requirements of their release. The revocation rate is only about 20 percent among mental health probation cases. Emphasizing the importance of personal contact in working with the probationers, Carter said that stepping down from the bench and listening to their concerns shows that he cares about them. He won’t hesitate to deliver a tongue-lashing, and even jail them, if they refuse to comply with the program’s requirements. “It’s not softer criminal justice,” Carter said. “It’s smarter.” The program can accommodate up to 100 people at a time.