Loudoun Co. aims to close revolving door of mental health-related recidivism

Lawyers for Rose McGowan will argue Wednesday in Loudoun County District Court that prosecutors haven't enough evidence to try her for felony drug possession. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein, file)(WTOP/Neal Augenstein)
WASHINGTON — Loudoun County’s efforts to help people with mental illness stay out of jail now includes a Mental Health Docket at the General District Court.

Offenders will “receive support from the judge, of all people. And then, hopefully, come away from all this with their illness treated and under control,” Loudoun County Community Corrections Director Jim Freeman said.

The program is open to nonviolent offenders who are diagnosed with serious mental illnesses that effect human behavior, such as schizoaffective and bi-polar disorders. They have to be county residents and make plea deals.

The defendants initially will meet weekly for progress reports with their support team, which includes the judge, the prosecutor, their probation officer and mental health clinicians.

“And this (schedule) is a key with all specialty courts — such as drug courts and veterans courts,” Freeman said. “Recidivism will decrease from people graduating from these specialty dockets. It’s a statistical fact.”

Freeman said less recidivism and fewer crime victims save the system money.

If participants violate conditions of probation or the court program, a wide range of sanctions can be imposed, such as community service, a day in jail, having to work at the landfill for a day or writing an essay.

The program is being funded through the existing budgets of participating agencies, including the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office; the Office of the Public Defender; the Department of Community Corrections, and the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services.

The program launched July 1. Last week, it welcomed its first participant. Freeman hopes to have the program grow to up to 10 people within the next 12 months.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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