Could special courts help those with mental illness?

WASHINGTON — Judges, police and corrections officials say that jails too often become a holding facility for people whose brushes with the law have their roots in access to mental health treatment.

“This has been an issue for 30 years,” says Robert Green, director of Montgomery County’s Department of Corrections. Green says jails are not the right place for many of the people who end up there, but the irony is that because the county’s staff has developed a coordinated effort to deal with mental health, getting the mentally ill out of jail and into state programs is a challenge.

Just as drug courts have worked for those dealing with addiction, Montgomery County officials believe mental health courts could help those struggling with mental illness. And the need is clear; Phil Andrews, a former County Council member who now works on community crime prevention efforts in the county’s State’s Attorney Office, says police have seen a 24 percent increase in calls related to mental illness from 2011-2014.

Andrews says the likelihood of repeat arrests goes up without treatment. In 2014, eight people identified as having a mental illness were arrested a total of 250 times.

Andrews, Judge Gary Bair and Green joined Judge John Debelius, the administrative judge for the Circuit Court and Dr. Raymond Crowel, chief of the Behavioral Health and Crisis Services for the county, in speaking before a Montgomery County Council committee on Monday.

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