Disability Veterans

Mental Health Court

Implementation of Mental Health Courts as a possible way forward.

By Corey Gavin

June 14, 2017

According to a 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, in 2005 more than half of all prison and jail inmates had a mental health problem; 56% in State Prisons, 45% in Federal Prisons and 64% in local jails.  This is statistically significant when taking into account that, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Mental Illness Surveillance Report, only 25% of the US population have a mental illness.

The report also indicated the state prisoners with mental health disorders were more likely to receive longer sentences than those without and were twice as likely to be injured in fights as those without.  They were also more likely to be cited for rule violations.

A growing answer to this problem is the implementation of Mental Health Courts.  In the state of Michigan, the number of these courts in existence has grown from 8 in 2012 to 23 in 2015.  According to a Michigan Courts Problem-Solving Courts Publication, “The Michigan mental health courts (MHCs) target offenders who have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, serious emotional disturbance, or a developmental disability.  MHCs offer eligible offenders the opportunity to participate in a court-based treatment program to address their mental illness instead of sentencing them to lengthy jail or prison terms.”

The performance measures for those in the Michigan MHC program in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 had a completion rate of 49% with 27% of them improving their education level, 43% improving employment status, 99% improving their mental health status, 97% improving Quality of Life and 92% being compliant with medication.  There was a 13% decrease in recidivism after two years of graduating the MHC and a 13% decrease after four years as compared to those with mental health disorders released from incarceration who did not participate in the MHC.

Currently, Kent County Courts System is conducting a study to be completed by September 2017 to determine the benefits of implementing an MHC in the county.  It is my opinion, with all the data we have available to us that it is imperative that this implementation goes forward.  I urge people who have been affected by mental health disorders or have loved ones who have to write or call their representatives and encourage them to see that this happens.  As always thank you for reading.

For More Information:

Disability Veterans

Kent County Veterans Treatment Court

Rehabilitation over Incarceration for Disabled Vets

By Corey Gavin

May 22, 2017

As a disabled veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and as a recovering alcoholic, I have had my own run-ins with the justice system in the past.  My experience was probably similar to any other person who has committed non-violent crimes.  I was shuffled through the system, placed on probation and completed community service.  I personally have no complaint as it pertains to this process.  The way I see it is that I committed the offense so it was up to me to go through the process of making up for it.

What I see lacking in this process, however, is that it does nothing to address the underlying cause(s) behind the offenses being committed, thus often leading to recidivism.  I make no excuses for my previous offenses but if there had been a program through which I could have gotten help, subsequent offenses may never have occurred.

In Kent County, there is such a program.  The traditional justice system process involves the offense being committed to local law enforcement interception, arrest, and detention.  What follows is an initial appearance in court, jail for pretrial, appearance in dispositional court, then to release, jail or prison. Finally, there is either probation or parole back into the community with little focus on rehabilitation.

The Kent County Veterans Treatment Court (KCVTC) steps in for qualifying veterans at the initial detention phase of the process and focuses on treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration and release.  From the KCVTC 2017 Public Presentation Slideshow, Veterans Treatment Courts (VTC) are specialized treatment courts designed to meet the particularized needs of veterans. The goal is to divert eligible veteran-defendants from traditional or other specialty courts to a specialized criminal court docket. These veterans suffer from substance abuse, mental illness and co-occurring disorders who are charged with, what are typically, non-violent felony or misdemeanor criminal offenses. The court substitutes a treatment-based problem-solving model for traditional court processing. VTCs are specifically structured to help those who served our nation.

What the KCVTC focuses on, is treatment for substance abuse issues, mental health issues, and emotional disabilities.  It integrates academic and/or vocational training with job skills training and placement services.  It further provides access to community-based supportive services.  Additionally, it is a voluntary process that is driven by peer support from previous graduates of the program.  The KCVTC promotes sobriety, recovery, and stability through a coordinated response to the veterans substance abuse and mental health issues.

I was a career soldier who never wanted to do anything other than serve in the military, but after too many head and bodily injuries, I physically could no longer do the job.  Upon release from the military, I struggled with Post Traumatic Stress, self-medicated with alcohol and realized that on paper the military did not prepare me for any civilian job out there.  Essentially I felt left behind.  Programs like the KCVTC breaks that cycle and truly makes a difference in people’s lives.  I have no doubt that if we had similar specialty courts for the civilian population recidivism rates would decrease and rehabilitation would be a true possibility or even a reality.