Montana’s lone court specifically for mentally ill people accused of crimes is now in full operation in Missoula, after a startup that began with initial funding in 2003. Without the Missoula Mental Health Court, many of the defendants who pass through it would languish in jail, reports the Billings Gazette.
The court works with prosecutors, defense attorneys and treatment agencies to help people accused of crimes that appear linked to mental illnesses. “People noticed that drug treatment courts (for addicted offenders) were having positive results, so they began to look at other populations in the criminal justice system that were defined by very specific aspects of the offenders’ lives,” said Theresa Conley, coordinator for Missoula’s mental-health court. The goal is to divert nonviolent offenders with significant mental disorders into treatment programs rather than keeping them in jail.