Mental Health Court
On October 4, 2012, Snohomish County instituted a specialized Mental Health Court pilot project. This project was created in order to better serve the community by addressing public safety, reducing criminalization of persons with mental illness, and promoting systems collaboration. The planning involved key players across the county, using a collaborative approach to create an effective working pilot program. The program’s pilot status changed to that of a permanent program after two years.
In a regular criminal case processing, defendants often interact with multiple defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges, which is an approach that often creates barriers that prevent the court from identifying and addressing the unique needs of the mentally ill offender. Mentally ill offenders often spend unnecessary time in jail, and lacking access to mental health treatment services upon release, often become repeat offenders and cycle through the system all over again.
The Mental Health Court (MHC) represents an effort to increase cooperation between the criminal justice system and the mental health treatment system in a non-adversarial setting. The program hopes to achieve the following outcomes for the mentally ill misdemeanant defendants: faster and meaningful case processing time, improved access to public mental health treatment services, improved well-being, and reduced recidivism. An important outcome to be achieved from this program for the larger community is improved public safety.
HOW IT WORKS
- Defendants are referred to Mental Health Court (MHC) from a variety of different sources -- by attorneys, law enforcement, family members, medical / treatment professionals, or jail psychiatric staff.
- Each new referral to MHC will be evaluated and staffed by the Court Team consisting of the Judge, Defense Attorney, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, and the Court Liaison. The Court Team reserves the right to not accept cases into its jurisdiction if a person does not meet eligibility criteria.
- Participation in the 12-24 month program is voluntary. Defendants will be asked to waive their rights to a trial on the merits of the case and enter into an agreement to complete treatment and follow all conditions of the court. The Court Team will provide guidance and support as the participant work toward program and treatment goals.
- The Court holds hearings every other Thursday at 11:00 a.m., in District Court, Everett. The Court Liaison is present at all court hearings and is responsible to link the participant with appropriate services and to develop effective treatment plans and goals with the participant and treatment agency. In addition to Court Team staffings occurring immediately prior to court, new case referrals are discussed at Court Team staffings every other Tuesday.
- Participants who successfully complete the program get their criminal charge(s) dismissed.
- If you believe that a case is appropriate for MHC, you can email a copy of the MHC Referral Form to the MHC Court Liaison Yvonn Valles.
- To be referred to and to participate in MHC, a client must be legally competent. Make sure any competency-related issues are resolved before referring your client to MHC.
- Upon receiving the referral, the individual will be screened for legal and clinical eligibility. Certain crimes such as DUI, physical control, any domestic violence crime where the victim objects to MHC, communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, and assault IV with sexual motivation are presumed to be legally ineligible. The individual must have a severe and persistent mental health diagnosis defined as an Axis I disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). The individual must also be “amenable” to treatment.
- The MHC team will staff each case to discuss the individual’s legal and clinical eligibility.