State House approves plan to strengthen mental health courts
September 19, 2013 | MPRN The alternative courts allow certain offenders with severe mental health issues to avoid jail time and have charges erased from public records. That’s if they participate in treatment programs under the supervision of a judge.
Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) championed the bills in the House.
“This is an opportunity to really get serious about attacking cost and saying to the extent that we can rehabilitate and keep people out of prison, we’re going to save some serious money and we’re going to improve lives,” Cotter said after the vote Thursday afternoon.
House Bills 4694, 4695, 4696 and 4697 would encourage the alternative court system to expand. But they wouldn’t provide state funding. Right now, Michigan’s mental health courts rely on local communities to finance their efforts.
If the legislation becomes law, Cotter says he hopes the next step will be to address that issue. He says strong support for these bills likely opens the way for future state investment.
“I think this is a step in the process,” said Cotter. “And even if the funding doesn’t come – and I don’t want to be pessimistic – but even if the funding does not come, I think we’ve allowed this to increase the likelihood that we’ll see more mental health courts around the state.”
A recent study from the state Court Administrative Office shows participants in Michigan’s mental health courts are far less likely to re-offend. The report also said they have a better chance to find employment and education opportunities, and have a higher overall quality of life compared to those in the traditional criminal justice system.
The legislation to bolster Michigan’s mental health courts now goes to the state Senate.
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