Michigan courts are addressing mental health on multiple fronts

During Mental Health Awareness Month, the Michigan Supreme Court put the spotlight on the many ways mental health issues are being prioritized and addressed throughout Michigan’s judiciary and the criminal justice system.

—Wayne County Behavioral Health Leaders Honored

Wayne County Probate Court Chief Judge Freddie G. Burton Jr., developed a Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) launched in 2021 with the help of local stakeholders—the Detroit-Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) in particular—in response a mounting mental health crisis in the local criminal justice system. The BHU uses court-ordered outpatient care, known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment, to prevent the need for hospitalization for persons with serious mental illness while focusing on helping them to stabilize and improve their condition, preserve resiliency, and become productive members of society.

In honor of their efforts, Burton, DWIHN President and CEO Eric Doeh, and DWIHN Hospital Liaison Sojourner Jones have been named 2023 “Notable Leaders in Behavioral Health” by Crain’s Detroit Business.

—Michigan’s Mental Health Courts Solving Problems and Saving Lives

The Michigan Supreme Court reported that between October 1, 2021 and September 30, 2022, Michigan’s 42 mental health courts (MHC)—35 adult, 7 juvenile—succeeded in lowering recidivism and unemployment rates, increasing the quality of life, and improving mental health among program graduates across the state. Specifically:

• On average, MHC graduates (across all types) were nearly 2 times less likely to commit another crime within three years of admission to a program;

• Unemployment among adult circuit MHC graduates dropped by 81 percent;

• Nearly 100 percent of participants (all types) reported improved mental health; and,

• Average 95 percent of participants (all types) reported improved quality of life.

—Task Force Created to Help Legal Professionals

In 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court partnered with the State Bar of Michigan to create the Task Force on Well-Being in the Law, led by MSC Justice Megan K. Cavanagh and SBM President James Heath, in response to studies indicating that lawyers, judges and law students suffer from higher-than-average rates of problem drinking and substance use, anxiety, depression, and stress. During its first year, the Task Force has worked to identify stakeholders and the role they can play in reducing the stresses to mental health in the legal profession; eliminating the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviors; educating judges, lawyers, and law students on well-being issues; and taking incremental steps to instill greater well-being in the profession. 

Watch for a Task Force report coming this year.

—Making Michigan a National Leader on Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System

State Court Administrator Emeritus Milton L. Mack Jr., a former Wayne County Probate Court judge, has earned national and statewide recognition for his longtime work toward addressing mental illness in the criminal justice system and mental health reform. Mack co-chaired the National Initiative Advisory Committee—under the National Center for State Courts Council of Chief Justices and the Council of State Court Administrators—to assist state courts in more effectively responding to the needs of court-involved individuals with serious mental illness. 

The 40-member group included four state Supreme Court chief justices, four state court administrators, a wide range of experts from across the nation, and more members from Michigan than any other state. 

Mack co-authored a report, “The Future is Now: Decriminalization of Mental Illness,” that led to the creation of the Advisory Committee.