NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A mental health specialty court could be in operation by the end of the year in Nacogdoches County. It's a proactive move to supervise individuals charged with a misdemeanor and are suspected of having a mental illness.
Establishing the program was a team effort.
Court administrator Lisa Patton thumbed through a county-court-at-law docket. The red flags of individuals with mental health problems caught her attention.
"Their violent and angry, but they really don't know what's going on," Patton said. "Here's one in particular."
Patton, an advocate for mental health, knows if mental illness is left untreated, it can cause irrational behavior. She found another one.
"Just lost control," Patton said. "And that's how, many times they are diagnosed."
The offenders often end up in jail.
"A minimum, 10 percent of the cases we deal with likely involve some kind of mental illness, and those are just that are diagnosed," said John Fleming, the Nacogdoches County Attorney.
Offenders rarely get well in jail. They serve their time, are placed on probation, and usually meet up with law enforcement once again.
"The assets that we have to get them the assistance that they need often leaves the mental illness out on the roadways, untaken care of," said Chief Deputy Stephen Godfrey with the Nacogdoches County Sheriff's Office.
A mental health court is a different approach. Selected offenders will meet with a probation officer up to five times a month. Burke Center mental health counselors will monitor treatment.
In addition, county-court-at-law judge Jack Sinz will block out two half-days a month to meet one on one with selected offenders with mental health issues.
"Primarily, we'll make sure that they are following all doctor's orders, taking medications that they need to be taking," Sinz said. "In other words, hopefully they will do what they need to do to live a normal life and stay out of trouble in the future."
Patton calls the mental health court an answered prayer. In October, she recruited office staff to promote mental health awareness. Now, the effort is hopefully leading to a new beginning for those struggling with a mental illness.
Participation in the mental health court is voluntary. The program will not cost any additional tax dollars. The Nacogdoches County court-at-law wants to launch the mental health program before the end of the year with at least 10 participants.