Mental health is a deeply complex issue that can lead to a multitude of problems impacting states and the US as a whole. Mental illness is linked to drug addiction and abuse, increased criminal activity, severe acts of violence, and an overall lower quality of life. The state of Michigan has taken action to implement programs to target drug users and the mentally ill to improve their quality of life and keep people that need treatment, not incarceration, out of jail. Drug addiction and mental illness is exactly that, an illness; a medical condition that causes detrimental behavior that may be corrected with proper treatment. Mental Health Courts throughout Michigan help give the mentally ill a higher quality of life and reduce the number of people in the state prisons; saving taxpayer money. Mental Health Courts have proven to show that they provide a much needed function in the State of Michigan and should be utilized in all communities.
In 2009, the state of Michigan funded eight pilot mental health court programs and expanded to twenty programs in 2014. This was in response to the overrepresentation of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system. Only 26 of 83 counties in Michigan currently have access to these Mental Health Court programs. According to the Michigan Problem Solving Courts Performance and Outcomes Report, 46% of participants complete these programs, but the important data is how these programs changed their lives. Of those that completed the program; 36% improved their employment status, 47% improved their education level, 95% reported an improved quality of life, and an impressive 97% improved their mental health status. There was a 4% recidivism rate after one year, compared to 22% recidivism rate in a control group of non-participants. Participants are shown to have a higher quality of life and are much less likely to be returned to the criminal justice system, however, they do not get off without punishment. (Problem Solving Courts, n.d.)
“We can’t treat the situation as if no crime has been conducted. There has to be some punishment,” says Carl Marlinga, a Probate Court Judge that presides over the Macomb County Mental Health Court. The court in Macomb County began in October 2013 and has seen success with its participants ever since. The court excludes severe crimes such as homicide and criminal sexual conduct. They work with the Macomb County Community Mental Health Department to find people with profound mental health issues that cannot be declared innocent by reason of insanity. The Macomb County court is one example of many that are able to make a significant impact on the lives of people who really need support or help. Compared to the population of mentally ill persons in Michigan this is a small program. However, the program is helping a select few that can still become positive members of the community. Marlinga states that; “we think that because of those Mental Health courts that across the country, thousands will turn away from a life of crime and be happy and healthy.” However, these courts do cost the state and county resources and money in a time where the state is looking to save money and reduce debt. (May, 2015)
Florida has found a way to address the money problem. Florida is one of many states that recognize the problem of mental illness in the criminal justice system and has enacted programs to divert the mentally ill to treatment instead of jail. Their program has reduced the recidivism rate in a way similar to the Michigan programs, reducing the daily jail population in Miami-Dade County from 7,800 to 5,000. Their efforts have led to the closing of one jail in Miami-Dade County, saving it $12 million in one year alone. The process of jailing a person and holding them is extremely costly to the state and municipalities. Programs like the one in Macomb County keep people out of jail, reducing the cost those jails present to the state. This can open up more money in the budget to expand programs like Drug Courts and Mental Illness Courts. (Ollove, 2015)
These types of courts have proved to be crucial and successful and should be encouraged to expand to serve every community in Michigan. There are costs associated with Drug and Mental Illness Courts, but these courts are an investment in the people that will bring a return that is incredibly beneficial to the state.
May, L. (2015, March 21). Lost causes have become stars for the Mental Health Court project. Macomb Daily.
Ollove, M. (2015, May 19). The PEW Charitable Trust. Retrieved from New Efforts To Keep The Mentally Ill Out Of Jail: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/5/19/new-efforts-to-keep-the-mentally-ill-out-of-jail
Problem Solving Courts. (n.d.). Retrieved from Michigan Courts: http://courts.mi.gov/administration/admin/op/problem-solving-courts/pages/mental-health-court.aspx