Mental Health Court

OVERVIEW

 

In the 1980s mental health courts were developed to address the overrepresentation of mentally ill individuals in the criminal justice system with the understanding that defendants with mental illness have unique needs. Mental health courts divert select defendants into judicially supervised community-based treatment resources. They are supported through mental health assessments, individualized treatment programs, and ongoing judicial supervision. Modeled after drug courts, mental health courts aim to promote public safety and reduce the criminalization of persons with mental illness.

Snohomish County Mental Health Court (MHC) instituted its pilot program on October 4, 2012. The planning involved key players across the county, using a collaborative approach to create an effective working pilot program. The program is voluntary and select defendants with misdemeanor offenses are referred to MHC by a variety of sources. The program’s pilot status changed to that of a permanent program after two years.


In standard 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 defendant with a mental illness. Mentally ill defendants often spend unnecessary time in jail and, lacking access to mental health treatment services upon release, often become repeat offenders and continuously cycle through the system. MHC aims to interrupt this cycle by diverting these defendants to community based treatment and support resources.

 

PROGRAM OBJECTIVES  


The Mental Health Therapeutic 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 aims to achieve the following outcomes for defendants with mental illness: faster and meaningful case processing time, improved access to public mental health treatment services, improved well-being, dismissal of criminal charges upon completion and reduced recidivism. In addition to improved outcomes for individual defendants, MHC positively impacts the local community through improved public safety.


ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA 

  • 18 years of age or older;

  • Have a severe and persistent mental health condition as determined by a mental health professional;

  • Have pending charges in Snohomish County District Court; 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.

  • Be willing to engage in all mental health treatment requirements including chemical dependency treatment if applicable.

  • Participant must complete program screening and score as a Medium to High for risk and need based on an objective risk assessment score using the Ohio Risk Assessment Tool administered by MHC staff;

  • Must be legally competent (Make sure any competency-related issues are resolved before referring your client to MHC);

  • Resident of Snohomish County; or have ability to obtain housing in the county if homeless;

  • Be willing to be honest, show up and work hard toward positive change.




     

    HOW IT WORKS 

  • Only select misdemeanant defendants diagnosed with a “Serious Mental Illness” (SMI) may be referred to MHC. SMI diagnoses include but are not limited to: schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, psychotic conditions not otherwise specified, bipolar disorder, and severe depressive disorders.

  • Defendants are referred to Snohomish County Mental Health Court (MHC) from a variety of different sources -- by attorneys, law enforcement, family members, medical and treatment professionals, or jail psychiatric staff.

  • If referred, Defendants must submit an MHC Referral Application within 60 days of being arraigned on a new charge filed in Snohomish County District Court.

  • Each new referral must be deemed legally eligible by the MHC Deputy Prosecutor in order to proceed with the referral requirements. If approved, the defendant must follow the steps of the MHC Requirements Checklist to complete the referral process.

  • Referrals will be evaluated and staffed by the Court Team consisting of the Judge, Defense Counsel, Prosecuting Attorney, Court Coordinator and Court Specialty Officer. 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 works toward program and treatment goals.

  • The Court holds hearings on Thursdays at 9:30am and 10:30 a.m., at the Snohomish County District Court – Everett Division. The Court Specialty Officer is present in the courtroom at all court hearings and is responsible for linking the participant with appropriate services and to develop effective case plans and goals with the participant and treatment agency.

  • Participants will progress through a series of five stages by achieving specific goals in each stage to reach graduation.

  • The MHC Court Team meets the day before each court date to conduct staffings on current cases and new referrals. Participants who successfully complete the program get their criminal charge(s) dismissed.


    IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS OR WOULD LIKE TO MAKE A REFERRAL TO THE SNOHOMISH COUNTY MENTAL HEALTH COURT PROGRAM, YOU CAN EMAIL THE MHC CLERK AT [email protected] OR CONTACT THE DEFENSE ATTORNEY ASSIGNED TO THE CASE.