Published on June 24, 2016

Community Support Helps Launch Mental Health Court Demonstration Project in Scott County

With broad community support and the leadership role of Quad Cities Interfaith, Scott County has a mental health court demonstration project.

Quad Cities Interfaith raised awareness about the need for a mental health court, built support and organized a strategic plan to create momentum. The mental health court demonstration project is being formed in conjunction with the 7th Judicial District of Iowa but will only be available in Scott County initially.

The Quad Cities Interfaith Restorative Justice Task Force has been exploring justice issues in the community since May 2015.

“Across the country, not just in Scott County, too many people with mental health conditions are being convicted of crimes and dumped behind bars when their primary need might not be incarceration, but mental health treatment,’’ said Leslie Kilgannon, director of Quad Cities Interfaith.

Genesis Philanthropy has donated $50,000 to help launch the demonstration project. The donation complements Genesis Philanthropy’s mission to help improve the health and lives of individuals and families throughout Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois.

“A mental health court is a need that has existed for some time but the idea now has the impetus of groups working behind the scenes to make the court demonstration project a reality,’’ said Jim Victor, chairman of the board of Genesis Philanthropy. “The idea of a mental health court, and expanding mental health services in general, fits with the goals of Genesis Philanthropy. We are excited to be part of this effort and the benefits mental health court will have.’’

Primarily because of lack of funding rather than a lack of need, Iowa as a state has lagged behind other states in establishing a diversion option for some individuals sentenced for a crime when what they may need is mental health treatment.

"We’re not reinventing the wheel,’’ explained 7th District Court Associate Judge Christine Dalton. “Even though we are behind other areas in establishing mental health courts, in some ways that is an advantage.

“We can look at the models that work and the models that don’t work as well and learn from them starting with this demonstration project.’’

Mental health courts are created to more appropriately treat people with mental health conditions who are in the criminal court system. Mental health courts can reduce the number of criminal convictions of people with mental illness and reduce the number of people in prisons and jails.

Mental health courts identify mental health issues that may be contributing to criminal behavior. Nationally, at least one of three inmates display mental health conditions.

The offenders served by mental health courts are typically non-violent offenders and defendants must also meet extensive criteria for their cases to be heard in mental health court.

If the defendants follow the requirements, sentences can be waived; can be reduced to probationary periods; and, criminal records can be cleared.

Transitions Mental Health Rehabilitation will serve as care coordinator for the Scott County demonstration mental health court.

“When we have a person who is a threat to the safety of the community, that is probably a non-starter,’’ Judge Dalton explained. “When we come across a defendant who has a history of identifiable mental health issues and now has help but may not be compliant with medications, that defendant may benefit from mental health court.

“If the person is able to hold a job, if they are able to take care of their day-to-day needs and their family and are able to function in society, they may benefit from mental health court.

“The question should always be, ‘can we affect change in this particular person?’’’

Scott County’s mental health court demonstration project will require a collaboration of various agencies and individuals touching the lives of people with mental health issues.

Judge Mark Smith will be the assigned judge to Scott County’s mental health court demonstration project.

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