Legislative effort is aimed at expanding the use of mental health courts for juveniles

By Lee Dryden
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Michigan’s mental health courts have been widely touted for their effectiveness in helping offenders turn their lives around.

Now, a legislative effort is aimed at expanding the use of such courts for juveniles with rules specifically geared toward providing a support system that will lessen the chances of another offense.

House Bill 5806, sponsored by state Rep. Julie Calley, R-Portland, would create a separate chapter in the Revised Judicature Act for juvenile mental health courts.

The juvenile mental health courts process is currently interwoven with the adult mental health courts statute, Calley told the House Judiciary Committee on May 22. “The process for adults does not work well for juveniles,” she said.

Creating a separate framework could lead to more juvenile mental health courts around the state, said Robin Eagleson, a probate court analyst for the State Court Administrative Office, who told lawmakers how such efforts help young offenders.

“By addressing these mental health issues sooner in life, they are able to understand their mental illness, they’re able to understand what their needs are and it does decrease the likelihood of recidivism, it decreases the likelihood of jail or prison later on in life,” she said. “These problem-solving courts actually do a great service to our public, especially to our juveniles.”

Michigan’s Problem-Solving Courts’ annual report — titled “Solving Problems, Saving Lives” — shows nearly 100 percent of juvenile mental health court graduates improved their education level. Nearly all adult and juvenile mental health court graduates reported improved mental health and overall quality of life.

The legislation would require a juvenile mental health court to comply with the “Seven Common Characteristics of a Juvenile Mental Health Court,” published by Policy Research Associates.

This includes: regularly scheduled special docket; less formal style of interaction among court officials and participants; age-appropriate screening and assessment for trauma, substance use, and mental disorder; team management of juvenile mental health court participant’s treatment and supervision; system-wide accountability enforced by the court; use of graduated incentives and sanctions; and defined criteria for program success, according to a legislative analysis by the House Fiscal Agency.

Under the legislation, pre-admission screening and assessment would include: a review of the juvenile’s delinquency history, a mental health assessment and a “review of the juvenile’s family situation, special needs, or circumstances with a potential to affect the juvenile’s ability to receive mental health or substance abuse treatment and follow the court’s orders, including input from family, caregivers, or other collateral supports.”

A juvenile who is a violent offender could be admitted into a juvenile mental health court “if the judge and prosecuting attorney — in consultation with any known victim in the instant case — consent,” according to the analysis.

The bill also would require a juvenile mental health court to “provide a participant with periodic judicial reviews of his or her circumstances and progress in the program as well as individualized and graduated individual rewards for compliance and sanctions for noncompliance, including the possibility of detainment.”

Starting Jan. 1, 2019, certification of juvenile mental health courts by the State Court Administrative Office would be required.

Calley told the committee that the effort lowers the cost of incarceration for taxpayers and increases quality of life and self-reliance for participants.

“Treatment courts are about rehabilitation — addressing the root cause and reducing recidivism,” she said.

The effort is data-driven, evidence-based and “not feel-good legislation by any means,” Calley said.

Using adult mental health court guidelines as a framework, the legislation solidifies current practices and changes the statute to clearly define mental health court practices for juveniles, she said.

Kalamazoo County Probate Court Judge Curtis J. Bell, a presiding judge of a juvenile mental health court, testified in support of the legislation. 

“The juvenile system has its own set of terminology, its own process, its own procedure,” he said.

Young offenders with untreated mental health issues may self-medicate, leading to substance abuse, Bell said.

His juvenile mental health court has weekly sessions to discuss mental health treatment, medication, education and specialized care to help offenders and parents decide how to best move forward.

“What you’re doing is you’re treating that whole individual,” said Bell, who stressed the importance of early intervention that leads to offenders becoming contributing members of society.

Bell said the effort allows youths to take control over their own treatment and shows them how to take care of themselves similar to those with physical disabilities.

“The earlier you intervene, and the earlier you create that system, the better the outcome,” he said. “We carve the specific needs into their program and treatment and we review it on a weekly basis.”

The committee did not take action on the legislation after discussion at the May meeting.
 

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