The 22 felony court judges in Houston’s Harris County are considering the creation of a mental health court that would channel specialized medical treatment and legal consideration to those with such conditions as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychotic episodes, the Houston Chronicle reports. With the amount of prison and jail space dwindling statewide, court officials are exploring alternatives that may save money and reduce crime. The idea of a mental health court stems from a belief that time and treatment expended upfront can save countless dollars and problems years down the line.
State legislators are considering the judges’ request for $236,000, which could fund a full-time court coordinator and a mental health expert. “We need to give appropriate treatment for people who are sick, and these people are just sick,” said Judge Jan Krocker said. “They are not going to make their probation if they don’t get extra encouragement and extra supervision. If we can help all these people on probation, they won’t have to go to jail.” Studies show that 10 percent to 30 percent of defendants nationally have some form of mental illness. Several metropolitan counties in Texas are starting their own versions of mental health courts. “A lot of judges have no clue about mental illness, and they wonder why someone continues to be late or cannot show up for court or has trouble getting a job,” said Dee Kifowit of the Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments. “The person in charge (of mental health courts) understands and recognizes the dilemmas facing the mentally ill person.”