Helping a loved one who is experiencing a severe mental illness, especially someone who may not realize they are sick, is one of the greatest gifts you can give. For some, it may mean the difference between life and tragedy. ~ Treatment Advocacy Center
The court will target nonviolent defendants with serious mental illness and connect them to treatment services in the community.
“Mental health courts help the most vulnerable citizens of our community, many of whom have cycled in and out of the justice system, homelessness, emergency rooms, and mental health and substance treatment systems without ever getting the sustained treatment and support they need for recovery,” said Assistant Public Defender Anna Protano-Biggs who helped spur the program.
“The goal is to reduce the likelihood of continued crime by stabilizing these individuals, who cost more than seven times more to jail and who are subject to worsening mental conditions when incarcerated,” she continued. “Simply put, it’s a win for everyone in our community.”
This is certainly a great step for Tennessee, but there is another issue that must be addressed.
Tennessee is one of only five states that do not authorize involuntary treatment in the community.
As in AOT, mental health courts exert leverage over a mentally ill person to encourage compliance with prescribed treatment.
The key difference is that the mental health courts wait until after someone with severe mental illness commits a crime, whereas AOT commits the mental health system to patients before they enter crisis.
Some proponents of mental health courts mistakenly believe that the diversion tactics eliminate the need for court-ordered treatment, but this is wrong.
While mental health courts are critical for people with severe mental illness who commit criminal acts and face prosecution, criminal conduct should never be a prerequisite for receiving effective treatment.
Tennessee must take the dual approach of utilizing diversion practices, like mental health courts, and implementing assisted outpatient treatment laws across the state.