August 4, 2015

Mental Health Court: A Consideration for Montgomery County

The trends are there throughout the country – all too often local jails are becoming home for those suffering acute mental illnesses – and there is evidence that it’s happening in Montgomery County.

According to figures from local officials provided for a recent Washington Post article, the number of those booked at the Detention Center in the past three years who need immediate mental health services has risen from 1,011 to 1,626, a 61 percent increase. At the same time, the total number of people being booked at the jail has fallen.

Now, some Montgomery County criminal justice leaders -- including State’s Attorney John McCarthy and County Police Officer Scott Davis, head of the department’s program that trains patrol officers to respond to mentally ill people in the field -- are speaking out in favor of establishing a mental health court in the County.

Robert Green, director of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, said one of the keys to any mental health court’s success will be to equip people with awareness and treatment they can use well after coming into contact with the officer or a jailer.

“This is a lifelong issue for many of these individuals,” he said. “The minute we open our doors, their challenges don’t go away.”


  1. Let's face it. Crime is up in the county. Our elected leaders continue choose to ignore it because it doesn't fit their story. Crime statistics continue to be changed to make our politicians look good. Just look around, everyone is taking the necessary action to protect themselves. Even our public safety budget has been cut.

    1. Montgomery County is a very safe community. For 2014, crime in the County went up about 6 percent, the first increase in some years. Even including that, overall, serious crime is down about 28 percent over the past decade and all crime is down about 24 percent. These decreases are 2-3 times the national average decreases in crime. So the County must be doing something right.

      And, Police spending is up over the last decade, not down. Between 2007 and 2013, when County government spending overall was going up only 12 percent total over 7 years, Police spending more than doubled that – 28 percent. The Police budget for FY16, which just began on July 1, is about $270 million, a 1 percent decrease from FY15.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Unfortunately the state of Maryland is one of five states in our country that do not have assisted outpatient treatment laws. Assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), is court-ordered treatment which includes medication for individuals who have a history of mental illness and medication noncompliance. Conditions to remain in the community are monitored to meet court criteria. States having these laws in place show a reduced rate in hospital visits, homelessness, arrests, imprisonment and mental health episodes. AOT increases treatment compliance which keeps patients safe as well as the community. States not having these laws beside Maryland are Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Tennessee. Advocates are needed to push the legislation required to join Maryland with the rest of the nation.
      Mary Marx August 5, 2015

  2. So, the County establishes a "Mental Health Court" --- what with HIPPA, and other Federal &/or State Laws impeding the ability to intervene with those whose illness results in violence or dangerous acts upon another, WHAT will this "Court" be able to do? What will be its' purpose? Is it just going to add another "step" (delay) in the timely adjudication of an accused individual who allegedly committed a crime against an innocent? It looks to me like this would be a guilty Defendants' dream come true, another delay, while the Victim lingers in a state of being "victimized" by the lack of a timely resolution, unable to move on with his or her life. I just don't see how such a "Court" would be anything more than "show" and something else the Tax Payer would need to fund --- if not at first, it would happen eventually. We start these things with good intentions but they become abused, oversight will not be done, and it just cost money and additional delays in what is supposed to be a "timely" Criminal Justice system.

    1. The Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office provided the following information: Mental health courts are able to require that defendants take their medication and follow many other requirements as a condition of their participation, including the sharing of medical information and status of participants among mental health court team members. Thus, HIPPA and other Federal and/or state laws are not an obstacle in mental health courts.

      Mental health courts divert defendants who have committed minor crimes due to their mental illness into treatment and away from jail. They help stabilize and provide appropriate treatment and connections to community services for people who have a mental illness, and they reduce recidivism. Effective intervention early on also may prevent individuals with a mental illness who have committed minor crimes from committing much more serious crimes. These are the reasons why Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy is a strong proponent of a mental health court for our county.

      The dockets of mental health courts are open to the public. Crime victims can monitor the court and the progress of their case. Studies of mental health courts (there are about 250 mental health courts in the United States, including four in Maryland) have consistently found that they reduce recidivism by 20-25% compared to non-participants, and that participants who are re-arrested are typically arrested for less serious crimes than non-participants. Oversight of mental health courts is done directly by the judges who have championed mental health courts. They, along with an experienced mental health court team -- comprised of representatives of the state's attorney's office, public defender, health and human services (social workers/case managers), parole and probation, mental health providers, and a court administrator -- are the key to a successful problem-solving court.

      An investment of time up-front in a mental health court, and a modest amount of funding, makes the public safer by reducing recidivism, reduces the need for jail space, and improves treatment and outcomes of justice-involved individuals who have committed crimes due to a mental illness.

      The Mental Health Court Implementation and Planning Task Force, established by John W. Debelius, III, Administrative Judge of Montgomery County's Circuit Court, will review the experience and practices of mental health courts in Maryland and across the nation, and recommend best practices for a Montgomery County Mental Health Court.


Thanks for submitting comment to Paperless Airplane.