Summit County Mental Health Court Diverts Defendants From Jail To Treatment

Judge Alison Breaux speaks with defendant James Speigel (left) during the first session of Hope Court. [Lecia Bushak / ideastream]
Judge Alison Breaux speaks with defendant James Speigel (left) during the first session of Hope Court. [Lecia Bushak / ideastream]
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Summit County held the first session of its new mental health court Monday, known as Hope Court. It’s a program to aid people with mental illness who are charged with low-level felonies.

Standing before Judge Alison Breaux is the mental health court's first defendant James Speigel. He listens as the judge explains the program. It's like probation, she says, but more intense, and it could take two years to complete.

"It’s going to require a little more work from you," Breaux told Spiegel during the session. "Are you ready to do that? I want to make sure you understand what I expect of you, because we’re in this together. Your treatment plan is going to be developed and it’s going to be based on you and your needs. However, it is your responsibility to complete the treatment plan. Do you understand that?"

The program pairs participants with a mental health unit probation officer and caseworker, who coordinate with local agencies to help get them into treatment. The goal, Breaux says, is to stem the number of people with mental illness in prison.

"With proper treatment and proper medication, these individuals can really succeed," Breaux said. "They can do a number of different things in the community that don’t involve getting arrested or hospitalized. With the proper resources, stability, and support, I think that’s the best case scenario rather than imprisoning them and having them return to the streets after a short term in prison."

In order to be eligible for the voluntary program, participants must be diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, PTSD, or bipolar disorder. Breaux says she hopes to oversee up to 35 participants as the program gets up and running.

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