Marietta Municipal Court gains support of the WCBHB

The Washington County Behavioral Health Board (WCBHB) passed a motion at the April 22 Board meeting to support the Marietta Municipal Court’s proposed Mental Health docket utilizing levy funds. David Browne, Executive Director of the WCBHB, states “We see the mental health court as a perfect use of levy funds entrusted to the Board.”

Mental health concerns have been on the minds of many since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Welch, it has been a concern in her court for many years. Judge Welch has had a special interest in mental health and linking mentally ill offenders to treatment since she began her career as a judge in 2006.

The Washington County Behavioral Health Board has been collaborating with community partners and sponsoring Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement for the past six years. As a result approximately 110 law enforcement officers and dispatchers have received focused training on recognition of severe mental illness and the many ways it presents, and procedures designed to de-escalate a volatile situation. Judge Welch has participated in the design and delivery of the training curriculum since its inception in Washington County. Crisis Intervention Training, while helpful with emergency response, cannot address the long term need of those individuals who cycle in and out of the criminal justice system, and who bear the burden of untreated and severe mental illness. The Mental Health Court would complement the training as a next step for offenders being addressed in the criminal justice system.

Eric Fowler, WCBHB Board President, shares “It is going to take continued collaboration between the courts, law enforcement, and local mental health treatment for the court to be a success. The court will have to trust the clinical recommendations of the mental health treatment provider, and more importantly, the court and probation staff will have to gain the trust and confidence of the court participants.”

The designated levy funding will support the first full year of the proposed Mental Health Court, including increased case management, probation, transportation, and effective delivery of recommended treatment and wraparound services. During the first year, the Marietta Municipal Court will apply for their certification as a Mental Health Court specialized docket. The Court must meet specific requirements including evidenced based practices in order to be certified by the Ohio Supreme Court. Certification increases resources to the court for participants’ treatment and program management.

Mental Health Courts focus on the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders with a history of severe and persistent mental illnesses who bear an increased risk of criminal recidivism. Traditional jail settings are generally not equipped to provide the level of treatment required by those with severe and persistent mental illness.

To address mentally ill offenders and the challenges of the jail setting, courts have established special “dockets” which are programs within a court designed specifically for mentally ill offenders, including individuals with addiction diagnoses. Moving from incarceration to a treatment-based setting frees up needed and expensive jail beds and supports individuals’ progress towards healthy re-entry to the community.

According to the DSM-5, severe and persistent mental illness is defined as a group of mental health disorders including schizophrenia-spectrum, schizoaffective, severe bipolar, and severe major depression with psychosis. Co-occurring substance use disorder may also present, but the mental health diagnosis must be the primary cause of involvement with the justice system. Most individuals with severe mental illness live quietly and productively in our community without contact with law enforcement, however, there are repeat offenders that require structured support for rehabilitation and stabilization. Each potential court participant will have a full clinical evaluation and must consent to participate.

Amy Bean, Assistant Marietta City Law Director, adds “As the Domestic Violence Prosecutor, there are a lot of cases where untreated mental illness is a strong contributing factor to the criminal offense. It is my hope that with the specialized docket, case management, mental health treatment, and wraparound services, it will allow them to stay in the community and out of the criminal justice system.”

The Washington County Behavioral Health Board and the Marietta Municipal Court are thrilled for the opportunity of continued collaboration and ability provide this much needed program to community members.

Shaeleigh Sprigg, Washington County Behavioral Health Board.

Leah Gregory, Marietta Municipal Court.


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