Kent County creating mental health court


The Kent County Courthouse is a landmark in downtown Grand Rapids. Courtesy Kent County

Kent County has been awarded funds to create a mental health court.

The Kent County Board of Commissioners, or KCBC, accepted a $193,000 grant to provide a specialized court docket for "certain defendants" suffering from a mental illness.

The grant was awarded to the county after a collaboration between staff from the 17th Circuit Court, Circuit Court Judge Joseph Rossi, Network180, the Sheriff’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Michigan Department of Corrections and the Public Defender’s Office on a planning study funded by the State Court Administrative Office, or SCAO, which began earlier this year.

Now that the funds have been granted, Kent County will form the Mental Health Treatment Court, which Judge Rossi will oversee. The will court will seek medical advice from Network180.

Rossi said the court will target individuals who have a felony charge and are diagnosed by a mental health professional to have a mental illness.

The Kent County jail estimates that more than 40 percent of inmates are on or have been on some kind of medicine to address mental illness, Rossi said.

Last month, the SCAO awarded $193,410 for implementation of a mental health court within the county. The grant will be used for “program coordination, clinical support, incentives, data entry, program involvement, drug tests and legal defense.”

The court will begin to assist defendants between November and December, and it will become fully operational after the new year.

Rossi said one of the benefits of having a mental health court is to ensure individuals are taking their medications.

“The court can order them to keep taking their medications and also show up for counseling appointments,” Rossi said. 

Rossi said if they are consistent with that process and if they can function in the jail setting, they’ll better able to integrate themselves back into the community, where they can interact with family instead of going back to jail with the same problem they had before.

“Jail certainly isn't a therapeutic environment for someone with a mental illness,” Rossi said

One goal of the program is a reduction in recidivism for defendants and a corresponding reduction in jail bed days. When the Mental Health Treatment Court becomes operational, it will be able to host up to 45 clients and most, if not all, will be managed in the community, while receiving treatment.

“Merely putting offenders suffering from mental illness in jail will not resolve the problem,” Rossi said. “Providing much-needed treatment could help people recover and stay out of the justice system, while alleviating the strain on the courts and jails.”

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