ATHENS - Athens-Clarke County, with the assistance of the ACC Department of Human & Economic Development, has been awarded a planning grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in the amount of $45,000 to assist in the planning and establishment of a mental health court. To increase public safety and make more effective use of limited criminal justice resources, the Superior and Probate Courts, working with the local mental health service provider Advantage Behavioral Health Systems as well as other groups, proposed to establish a mental health treatment court for offenders involved in the criminal justice system due to their mental illness.
This would actually be a program of Superior Court -- a dedicated court docket for persons whose mental disorder was the underlying cause of the behavior that led to the arrest. This specialized docket, or calendar, would be managed by the Honorable David Sweat, Judge, Superior Court of Athens-Clarke County, with backup assistance, as necessary, provided by Judge Susan Tate of the ACC Probate Court. It is anticipated that judges in the other Athens-Clarke County criminal courts would refer cases to the new “Treatment & Accountability Court.” The program would divert eligible offenders whose crimes most likely would not have occurred were it not for their mental illness from jail into treatment. This program will focus on keeping individuals in treatment through the use of judicial rewards and sanctions, arranging community support services, and continuing supervision.
Experience in other communities shows that judicial supervision ensures effective mental health and substance abuse treatment thereby reducing criminal behavior and leading to fewer arrests and less jail time while improving the quality of life for the offender and their families. It is also the goal of the local group to achieve better transition planning for persons upon their release back into the community from the jail or hospital, as well as to explore all options for ensuring that treatment is readily available when needed, whether through the mental health court docket, or through traditional criminal or civil commitment.
Over the next several months, the courts will be working with various county agencies and local groups to plan the final framework for the new court. The University of Georgia will be assisting in the development of the screening and assessment tools while also gathering data for later analysis. Local community support groups will also be establishing a clearinghouse of community and mental health resources that will be made available to the participants to assist in the treatment and long-term stability.
The proposed Treatment & Accountability Court would be a joint endeavor with Athens-Clarke County Superior and Probate Courts; Athens-Clarke County Jail/Sheriff’s Office and Police Department; District Attorney, Solicitor and Public Defender’s offices; Advantage Behavioral Health Systems; Family Counseling Services; University of Georgia School of Social Work and Law School; Interfaith Hospitality Network; the Mental Health Association of Northeast Georgia; Athens Justice Project; and the Clarke County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness along with numerous other mental health, housing and community support providers.
Federal funds for mental health court
From the county: