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Michigan’s Mental Health Courts: The New Face of Justice 1

mental health court


Just days ago we published an article on our drunk driving website about Michigan’s Veteran courts and what a wonderful difference they are making in the lives of retired soldiers in our state. While discussing that subject we were reminded that the Veteran Courts are only part of a system of Courts all over Michigan aimed at helping people overcome the struggles they are facing, without simply condemning them to a jail cell. Another unsung hero in this category would be Michigan’s Mental Health courts, which are providing solutions that are bettering the lives of countless people across Michigan.


If you aren’t certain what a Mental Health court is, we take this opportunity to break it down for you. A Mental Health court is a court, just like any other court in the judicial system. However, the difference is that the focus is less on determining guilt and innocence, and more on helping those who are caught up in the criminal justice system, but are also struggling with mental health issues.


On their website, Detroit Central City Community Mental Health Inc. describes this court as one that provides alternatives to prosecution and incarceration. “The goal of the Mental Health Court is reduce the recidivism rate of clients by providing intensive treatment to individuals who are identified as having multiple encounters with the criminal justice system which appear to be directly related to the symptoms of mental illness.”


In other words, if someone commits a crime (like destruction of property, or breaking and entering) they are likely to be prosecuted and if they are found guilty, they can be sentenced to jail or prison. However, if this continues to happen, over and over, and the court determines that the individual in question is struggling with possible mental health issues, it goes without saying that time spent behind bars will not help or rehabilitate them.


What they need is treatment and assistance to overcome the obstacles they are facing, which will in turn reduce the high probability of them committing crimes in the future. The philosophy behind the mental health courts is that if people are given the appropriate services, which are coordinated with the criminal justice system, within their communities, they are far more likely follow through with recommended treatments. This leads to more stable and functional people with better support systems, and help in times of struggle.


Mental Health Courts do not mean “getting off easy”!


We would like to remind our readers that a person who seeks treatment through the Mental Health Courts is not “getting off without a consequence” for the crime they have committed. Nor is it the same thing as using insanity as a defense against charges. An insanity plea is a very complex defense, and cannot be used in the Mental Health Courts as a defense.


According to Michigan law, an insanity defense is the claim that a defendant was legally insane when they committed the criminal acts. This means that, as the result of mental illness, the person “lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his or her conduct, or to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of the law.” Insanity defenses are not used often in criminal cases these days.


In essence, the aim of a Michigan Mental Health Court is to find ways to help and heal people struggling with mental illnesses, instead of convicting peoples whose crimes were the result of a treatable mental illness. There are people who struggle with this idea, ascribing instead to the “if you do the crime, you do the time” mentality. However, countless studies over the years have proven that incarceration makes mental illness worse, not better. That means that when those people are finally released, their chance of reoffending is extraordinarily high.


Join us next time, when we will be looking at how the Mental Health Courts in Michigan work, and what it means to successfully graduate from the program. Until then, if you or a loved one have been arrested and charged with a crime in the Great Lakes State, and are struggling with any form of mental illness, call us immediately at 866-766-5245. The skilled defense attorneys at The Kronzek Firm have decades of experience building proactive defense strategies and examining every angle of a case. We are here to help you 24/7.


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