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MENTAL HEALTH COURT

History

On July 8, 2015, Administrative Judge John W. Debelius III invited stakeholders to the first of several Mental Health Court Planning and Implementation Task Force meetings. Members of the Task Force were chaired by:

The purpose of the Task Force was to establish a Mental Health Court (MHC) in Montgomery County to address the challenge of increasing numbers of people committing minor crimes due to mental illness. Like other problem-solving courts, the new MHC would provide an alternative to incarceration by steering individuals suffering from mental illness to treatment and community supports.

Montgomery County’s MHC utilized best practices from similar programs in Baltimore City, Harford County, and Prince George’s County, Md. as well as Washington, D.C.

Montgomery County’s Mental Health Court accepted its first participant on December 2, 2016. The Honorable Gary E. Bair is the presiding judge.

Task Force Recommendations

The Task Force released its final report in January 1, 2016 and unanimously recommended that Montgomery County move forward with its own program in both District and Circuit Court.
The Task Force recognized the following benefits from establishing an MHC:

More information can be found in the Report of the Montgomery County Maryland Mental Health Court Planning and Implementation Task Force, dated January 21, 2016.

Eligibility

Individuals eligible to participate in the new court are adults (age 18 or older) who are:

Mental illnesses found among eligible participants include, but are not limited to, schizophrenia, clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, and Traumatic Brain Injury. Individuals with developmental disabilities who also have a mental illness may also be eligible to participate.
In Circuit Court, the defendant will need to plead guilty before entering the program, with the goal of reducing his/her criminal charges or allowing him/her to earn a probation-before-judgment (PBJ) upon successful completion and graduation.

Program Referral and Acceptance Process

Anyone can refer a defendant to the MHC Coordinator, including, but not limited to, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, Parole and Probation, state hospitals, private mental health providers, and family members.
The following steps outline the approach for approving a defendant for participation in MHC:

Mental Health Court Forms

Keys to a Successful Graduation from Mental Health Court

Successful completion of MHC should result in the avoidance of a criminal conviction and/or criminal record for the offense, depending on the court. MHC participants must achieve all the goals of their individualized case treatment plan to successfully complete/graduate from MHC. Goals will vary depending on each defendant’s unique plan but may include a combination of:

The program takes a minimum of 18 months to complete.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Mental Health Court (MHC) and what is its purpose?

A Mental Health Court is a problem-solving court with a dedicated docket used to divert certain defendants who have committed crimes because of a mental illness away from prosecution and jail and into a structured, individualized program, including treatment and community services, to enable them to avoid recidivating and become productive members of the community.

Who is eligible for a Mental Health Court?

Defendants who have committed a crime due to a mental illness, are competent, agree to participate, and are accepted by the MHC Team. Eligibility criteria with regard to offense vary among MHCs.

How many Mental Health Courts are there in the U.S. and in Maryland?

There are more than 300 MHCs in the U.S. The first full-fledged MHC was established in Broward County, Fla. in 1997. Four MHCs have been operating in Maryland for years: in Baltimore City District Court since 2003; in Harford County District Court since 2004; in Prince George’s County District Court since 2007; and in Baltimore City Circuit Court since 2011.

What is required to establish and operate a Mental Health Court?

A “champion” judge and state’s attorney, a supportive public defender, strong relationships with providers of mental health services, establishment of MOUs regarding agency roles and use of confidential health information of MHC participants, funding for a court coordinator and for mental health professionals to work with participants and, in Maryland, approval by the Court of Appeals.

How long are participants in a Mental Health Court program?

Typically 12 to 18 months. Participants must meet the goals of their individualized treatment plan.

Why would defendants who have committed low-level crimes participate in Mental Health Court?

To get access to appropriate treatment/services, and avoid jail or a criminal conviction.

How many people do Mental Health Courts serve?

The number varies significantly depending on the size of the jurisdiction and eligibility criteria. Prince George’s County Mental Health Court had an average daily client count of 152 in FY15.

What have studies of Mental Health Courts found?

They reduce recidivism by 20–25% or more and improve access of participants to treatment/services.

How do Mental Health Courts differ from Drug Courts and Veterans Courts?

All are problem-solving courts. MHCs have more individualized plans for case management than Drug Courts typically have. Almost all people served by a Veterans Court can be served by an MHC.

 

 
Montgomery County Circuit Court
50 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850
Office Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM