Marion County mental health court now state certified

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Mar. 16, 2016)– In a little over a year, the Mental Health Alternative Court in Marion County has managed to enroll 65 clients in its programs, is preparing to graduate three, and won the support of the Indiana Judicial Center to receive state certification, opening the door to additional funding sources and more participants choosing freedom and self-sufficiency over jail.

“To the extent that we can break that cycle and end the situation where these individuals continue to cycle through the criminal justice system, there’s going to be a savings to all of us,” said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry.

The Marion County Jail is essentially the largest mental illness and treatment facility in the state of Indiana.

“Today in the Marion County jail, for instance, a third of the people there have a mental health issue,” said State Senator Michael Young, a west side republican. “That’s 650 people in the Marion County Jail because of a mental health issue. It costs our taxpayers roughly around seven million dollars or so just to house secure and provide medication and treatment to those individuals.”

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office estimates it costs $92 a day to house an offender with mental illness issue, a ten dollar per day increase over housing an inmate in the general population.

A study by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI found that taxpayers shelled out, on average, more than $12,000 annually over the last five years for 25 current participants in the program, yet half of them are not expected to re-offend once completing their commitment to the court.

“We are an alternative to the standard criminal court, and by alternative I mean that we are not adversarial. We have a team approach,” said Judge Barbara Cook-Crawford who assigns each offender a recovery coach to monitor their progress. “They have to make sure that they are going to all of their treatment. They have to make sure that they take their medications as prescribed. A lot of our people, almost have of them, also have substance use issues so that may be included in their treatment as well.”

“This is exactly the type of collaboration and community coalition that is central to United Way’s mission of supporting citizens along their path to self-sufficiency,” said Ann D. Murtlow, President and CEO of United Way of Indiana, which assists in the court’s funding. “Of the 65 referrals made to Mental Health Alternative Court as of today, 97 percent are currently unemployed and 57 percent have not earned a high school degree. We have programs ready to help these individuals gain steady employment and partner agencies ready to assist with their educational needs.”

Judge Cook-Crawford reports that three participants in the program are set to graduate in May with another 65 in the pipeline to complete their commitment to treatment and stabilization in an effort to avoid returning to jail.

The court is another piece to the puzzle of finding law enforcement and criminal justice solutions to social issues that plague Indianapolis.

IMPD Chief Troy Riggs is relying on a holistic approach to fighting crime, tackling food security, mental illness and poverty issues, as an alternative to strict law enforcement that often clog up his officers’ days and the court’s dockets with non-criminals who commit petty offenses due to their personal challenges.