A court that cares
People who are mentally ill have
two strikes against them when they get up each morning. The first strike
The second strike is that without
mental health insurance people who need help have few options, and few
people have mental health insurance.
The third strike is that people
with mental illness all too often wind up in the criminal court system,
sometimes through a misguided attempt to self-medicate using illicit
What they really need is mental
health care, not jail. Yet while courts commonly stipulate treatment for
alcohol and drug offenders in hopes of rehabilitation, violators with
mental health problems are commonly ignored.
Idaho is fortunate to have one of
only a few mental health courts in the U.S. Seventh District Judge Brent
Moss of Idaho Falls started his experimental court in 2002. By steering
violators toward treatment, the court may save taxpayers money and
alleviate a lot of human misery.
Moss is aware of the double bind
confronting mentally ill people who cannot get mental health assistance
without getting involved in the criminal justice system. He says, "I
know of parents that have wanted to get help for their children. Right
now, unless you violate the law, there’s not a long-term treatment
Moss’ experiment is a small if
significant first step in the right direction. The first two graduates
of his court are currently employed and will soon have their fines paid,
and, according to Moss, "They’re becoming productive citizens to an
extent never before possible, and they’re just good people."
Thanks to Judge Moss. Other
district judges would do well to follow suit.