It is very infrequently that I find success stories to post. Here is one. Mental Health Court is not a new concept, but it is one that has taken a long time to get established. With all the media attention on the plight of the law enforcement community’s burden due to mental health, I think this concept is finally coming into its own.
Although mentally ill people commit crimes and damage to property and person, they do have special considerations when receiving punishment. Some of these people act on compulsions, delusions, or hallucinations and they feel that they do not have any other choice. I do believe that we all have to be held accountable for our actions, but I also believe that circumstances and situations need to be looked at individually.
Read this article and let me know what you think won’t you?
Mental Health Court graduates discover focus for tomorrow
“My name is Berlynn Denis Cottom. I can say that today because I know who I am.”
Those thoughts came from a 50-year-old woman who recently completed a two-year program with the Chatham County Mental Health Court.
She was one of the first five graduates able, with the help of Superior Court Judge Penny Haas Freesemann and drug team members, to find new purpose in their lives. Read graduation statements and poems from two of the five graduates.
The two-year-long regimen provides support, and sometimes sanctions, to help qualifying offenders deal with mental health issues that have dogged them in life.
Cottom recalled living in a “dark and lonely world.”
The mental health team, she said, “took a person who wanted to die and gave me a reason to live.”
“You took a person who lived in a world of darkness and loneliness and gave me sunshine.”
She is now a peer specialist for people who, like her, are dealing with mental disorders.
Freesemann, who with Judge H. Gregory Fowler has built the court since 2007, said the results were gratifying.
“I am so proud of these graduates, and of what they have accomplished,” Freesemann said. “I am excited about their futures, and look forward to the next group of candidates, who should be completing the program in April.”
She called the court and its initial success “an example of what can happen when people get together, roll up their sleeves, and think outside of the box.”
“But be on notice: We have only just begun,” she said. “To make a true impact on the jail, this program needs to grow and grow. And it will.”
She saw the court as a therapeutic means to address a problem that has nagged her for almost 30 years as a lawyer and judge.
When a defendant is ordered to receive mental health treatment as part of a sentence, where does that go?
Supporters of the court and similar courts believe a jail environment is not always the best way to deal with underlying problems such as mental health or substance abuse.
Before entering the program, the graduating group had amassed 170 criminal charges in Chatham County, 93 arrests and spent 3,818 days in the county jail, Freesemann said.
They had been admitted to Georgia Regional Hospital 57 times, spending 783 days there.
Since joining the court, that same group has amassed no new arrests or charges, 15 jail days as sanctions and 29 days in the regional hospital, she said.
“One of our graduates was afraid to leave the jail because of domestic abuse; one is a veteran who served our country as a Marine White House guard; and one lived in a tent at a local recreation facility,” she said. “Four were homeless.”
For Marie Biggins, 49, the program means a new beginning.
“I feel good like a new person,” Biggins said.
The program “has helped me to know that there is meaning in my life.”