Mental Health Courts Will Play a Key Role in Arizona Criminal Justice Reforms

28December
2018

Mental health courts are playing an increasingly important role in Arizona’s criminal justice system. However, the state’s prison population continues to rise making the case for the use of alternatives to incarceration.

More than 100 stakeholders in the state are pressing for alternatives, reported Tuscon.com.

From April to October 2018, Arizona Town Hall hosted 17 forums. Community members and employees of the local criminal justice system were invited to talk about the kinds of changes needed to reverse the rising prison population.  The report noted the number of people incarcerated in Arizona rose by 60 percent since 2000.

Understanding mental health courts in Arizona

Mental health courts in Arizona

That’s significantly above a national rise of 6 percent over the same period, according to reports compiled by the lobbying group FWD.us.

The report notes Arizona has the fourth-highest imprisonment rate in the nation and spends $1.1 billion on its prison system every year. It considers how Arizona can provide better services for mentally ill people who get into trouble with the law.

A final report considered the setting of goals for Arizona’s criminal justice system, the impacts mental illness and substance abuse, and the criminal charging process.

The report emphasized the need for a holistic approach to the issues facing Arizona’s criminal justice system.

The provision of better funding and access to addiction and mental health treatment were among the key demands in the report. It recommended adding a behavioral or mental health response option to 911 calls, better case management for people who returned to their communities after spending time in jail, and better transition and re-entry programs for defendants.

Arizona Justice System is Committed to Mental Health Courts

In a recent policy document, the Committee on Mental Health and the Justice System vowed to consider the following measures to develop mental health courts including:

  • Overseeing the creation of a model guide to help judges develop protocols to work with people with mental and behavioral healthcare needs and the criminal justice system.
  • Set up a summit to share the guide with judges, mental health professionals, court professionals, and justice system stakeholders across Arizona.
  • Review standards at Arizona mental health court standards to gauge how performance measures to include additional data and to examine data analytics. The committee will look at mental health courts in other jurisdictions and evaluate how they work.
  • Review laws and rules and how they can be improved for defendants with mental illnesses.
  • Oversee the implementation of recommendations of the Fair Justice Task Force on mental health courts as approved by the Arizona Judicial Council.
  • Identify ways to educate the public on the process of mental health courts and how they help defendants with mental illnesses.

Mental health courts in Arizona play a key role in keeping people with psychological and mental issues out of jail. See our blog to find out if you may be eligible.

If you believe the criminal justice system is failing to help your loved one’s specific needs please call our Arizona criminal defense lawyers at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

What Are the Alternative Paths for Mentally ill Prisoners in Arizona?

26November
2018

At the Garcia Law Firm, we believe everyone deserves a fair and just trial in the Arizona court system. All the circumstances related to a defendant’s behavior must be considered in a case including mental illness. We are believers in alternative paths to incarceration for mentally ill defendants.

Mentally ill people often end up locked up even though jails are the worst places for them. Recently, AZCentral highlighted alternatives to jail.

More than two years ago, Justina Kaleugher, a resident of Glendale, faced jail time after beating up a man and a woman when she was drunk. She committed an assault before but the victims did not press charges. They did on this occasion.

Kaleugher is a type 1 diabetic. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is an alcoholic. She faced up to six months in jail for the assault.

alternative paths for mentally ill prisoners

alternative paths for mentally ill prisoners often help

However, the judge offered her another option because she suffers from a serious mental illness due to childhood trauma. AZCentral reported Glendale Municipal Court Judge Elizabeth Finn told Kaleugher she could avoid jail if she agreed to attend the city’s mental-health court.

Although this is an alternative to incarceration, it’s a major undertaking. Kalaugher had to agree to take part in an intensive treatment program and meet with the judge every two weeks. By complying, she was able to avoid jail and get the misdemeanor charge dropped.

We are pleased to see mental-health courts like the one in Glendale becoming more widespread in Arizona. They are a way to simplify the intimidating judicial process for people with mental disorders and to end the cycle of repeat jail terms.

It took Kaleugher a year-and-a-half to ‘graduate’ from the mental health court and she experienced some setbacks on the way. She was initially suspicious about the program. After passing through the program, she started working as a recovering coach in Peoria, helping others work through their mental illness and alcohol addiction issues.

People diagnosed with serious mental illnesses or other developmental disabilities can attend mental health courts if one is available in their jurisdiction as long as the offense they have been charged with is a misdemeanor crime.

Shelley Curran, a court services administrator for Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care, told AZCentral, people with mental illnesses are not more likely to be arrested than the general population. However, when they are arrested, they usually remain in the criminal-justice system longer because they are unable to navigate the complex system.

While prison is a blunt instrument, mental-health courts alleviate the issues faced by people with mental illnesses by addressing their individualized needs and creating treatment programs tailored to the individual. The courts are voluntary. People suffering from mental illnesses can instead opt to go through the criminal justice system.

Chandler, Glendale, Phoenix and Tempe are among jurisdictions offering mental-health courts. The available options depend on where a crime is committed.

The city of Tucson also advocates alternatives to jail for people suffering from mental illnesses. As well as mental health courts, the city created sentencing alternatives that reduce jail sentences after a conviction or plea to certain offenses.

A third or subsequent conviction under Tucson City Code Section 11-28, Committing or Offering to Commit an act of Prostitution, carries a minimum 180-day jail sentence. However, the city states this penalty is ineffective in deterring subsequent offenses by defendants who are mentally ill or substance abusers.

Certain defendants are allowed to plead to a single count of prostitution, which requires only a 15-day jail sentence

Posted in Mental Health, Mental Health Defenses | Tagged , |