In the opinion of some individuals, incarcerating someone who is mentally handicapped will do nothing to improve their way of life or the way they look at situations, which would in turn, be futile to the improvement and stability of the community. If, instead, they were sentenced to treatment to care for their mental disabilities, they would have a higher likelihood of improvement and understanding of societal rules and norms. According to the description of specialty courts on the Michigan.gov website, "Specialty courts, also known as problem solving courts, are innovative programs designed to address an offender's underlying problem. Trial Court Services staff assigned to specialty courts strive to afford access to therapeutic justice by facilitating efficient and comprehensive problem solving court problems" (Michigan.gov).
Currently, in Michigan, several counties have access to mental health courts. Among them are courts in Wayne, Jackson, Oakland, Livingston, St. Clair, Grand Traverse, Otsego, Genessee, Berrien, Kalamazoo, and Ionia/Montcalm Counties. A majority of these mental health courts receive some sort of funding through the Michigan Mental Health Court Grant Program (MMHCGP).
Another aspect of the mental health court that is recent and has seen notable progress is the installation of juvenile mental health courts. An article was written in January 2010 in the Flint Journal titled "First wave of students graduate from judge's Juvenile Mental Health Court."According to the article, the Genessee County program has many requirements including, but not limited to, "...intensive probation and weekly check-ins...[those with] mental illnesses, are required to take their medication, attend school, and work toward earning privileges..." (Misjak). Judge Barkey has seen significant improvement in the lives of the students who have gone through her mental health court. Although there are some exceptions and not all students have gone through successfully, the change that has been seen in the students who have gone through this program is strong evidence of its ability to make a positive difference.
In 2007, there was much talk about the creation of a jail diversion program for individuals who are deemed mentally unstable by the state. Senate Bill 172 (2009) was introduced by Senators Brater, Anderson, Switalski, Prusi, Thomas, Scott, Clarke and Jacobs and was subsequently referred to the Committee on Judiciary. Per this piece of legislation, it would be the court's discretion whether an individual be incarcerated or go to a center for treatment if they are/have been treated for a mental illness, emotional disturbance, developmental disability or mental retardation and whether the interest of the community and the individual would be best met by incarcerating the individual or requiring the individual to seek treatment. If an individual pursues the track of treatment rather than incarceration, he/she must sign a diversion contract that would require that the individual stays in compliance with the court during the period of the contract.
This piece of legislation has been made comparable to policy that allows nonviolent drug offenders to seek rehabilitation rather than be incarcerated. According to an article in Psychiatric News written by David Milne, those who would be considered for participation in this program would include those "...diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder...[and] all cases involving sexual offenses and homicide will be excluded" (Milne). Some other requirements that would need to be satisfied in order to allow the offender to seek treatment rather than a jail sentence would be, but are not limited to, the victim's compliance with the order and the criminal's understanding of and implementations of the program. With sufficient resources, the success of a specialty court could be astronomical.
Should these mental health courts be a statewide program? What other alternatives are there to improving society in a productive manner? Would incarcerating individuals with mental handicaps improve society or just perpetuate a cycle of disobedience and crime? What other opinions do individuals have on mental health courts?
Michigan Courts. Specialty Courts- Mental Health Courts. 09 December 2009. http://courts.michigan.gov/scao/services/SpecialtyCourts/MentalHealth.htm. 30 January 2010.
Michigan Courts (2). Specialty Courts Grants and Funding. 31 July 2009. http://courts.michigan.gov/scao/services/SpecialtyCourts/GrantsFunding.htm. 2 February 2010.
Michigan Legislature. Senate Bill No. 172. http://legislature.mi.gov/documents/2009-2010/billintroduced/Senate/htm/2009-SIB-0172.htm. 1 February 2010.
Milne, David. Psychiatric News. Jail-Diversion Program Would Go Statewide if Legislation Succeeds. 21 September 2007. http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/content/42/18/6.2.full. 28 January 2010.
Misjak, Laura. The Flint Journal. First wave of students graduate from judge's Juvenile Mental Health Court. 25 January 2010. http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2010/01/first_wave_of_students_graduat.html. 31 January 2010.
The Michigan Policy Network is a student-led public education and research program to report and organize news and information about the political process surrounding Michigan state policy issues. It is run out of the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, with participation by students from the College of Social Science, the College of Communication, and James Madison College.
The thoughts, opinions, and positions represented herein are solely those of the participating students and in no way represent an official position or policy recommendation of Michigan State University.