One of Colorado's so-called problem solving courts, this one dealing with cases in which defendants suffer from mental illness, has its first "graduate," The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported.
This particular defendant was jailed for assaulting a police officer after being stopped for driving under the influence. He was diverted to Judge Deborah Grohs' mental health court when it was found that bipolar disorder may have played into his actions.
Rather than a jail sentence, the defendant ended up a year-and-a-half later with a certificate of graduation.
The mental health court in the Fourth Judicial District, which serves El Paso and Teller counties, is among a number of problem solving courts that have cropped up in the state in recent years to deal with special needs defendants, including, perhaps best well known, veterans charged with crimes.
"The programs typically assign mentors and case managers to defendants to arrange health care, counseling and substance abuse treatment, all while keeping a watchful eye on their progress during probation," wrote Gazette reporter Jakob Rodgers.
Mental health court would appear to be an important component of problem solving in the state's judicial system. The state's prisons and county jails have long been a repository for those suffering with mental illness.
The Rocky Mountain PBS I-News series Untreated found that those with mental illness in Colorado are five times as likely to be housed in jail or prison than in an inpatient psychiatric bed. Many county sheriffs are vocally unhappy about that reality.
“Years ago we deinstitutionalized mental health treatment,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told I-News. “People felt it was shameful that we had people in custody or locked up in mental health facilities. Now, instead, we lock them up in jail.”
Said Pueblo Sheriff Kirk Taylor, “These people don’t need to be in jail. They need to be in a therapeutic community.”
Mental health court may be a step in the right direction. A 2012 study of Colorado's problem-solving courts showed a "significant" drop in recidivism among participants, The Gazette reported.
Still, considering the vast numbers of those incarcerated who suffer from mental illness, it's a small step.