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Webster County Begins Mental Health Court

via Webster County website

Webster County is beginning a mental health court in its justice system.  It will be one of nine jurisdictions in Missouri to have one. KSMU’s Anna Thomas reports.

Mental health courts give defendants with pre-diagnosed illnesses an opportunity for mental health treatment, medical care and a structured living environment.

James Owen, division 2 associate circuit judge for Webster County, says the court will serve a select group of people.

“If they’ve been charged with a crime and it’s not a significantly violent crime, and they don’t have a significant criminal background. These are candidates that can be considered for this,” Owen said.

According to Owen, one in five people in the criminal court system, in Missouri alone, has had a history of mental illness.

“If we can cut down a fifth of the people in jail, well that would be something we’d be in some need for,” Owen said.

Melissa Daugherty, community mental health liaison, says many people who qualify for this program have gotten into trouble while trying to self-medicate.

“They’re acting out because they’re symptomatic in their mental illness,” Daugherty said.

She adds that the mental health courts work because they give those suffering from mental illness a support structure.

“It helps them feel like there is someone out there caring for me. Someone is guiding me and helping me along, because a lot of times people fall through the cracks. They are trying to make it on their own, and they’ve lost their support system because they’re so symptomatic people don’t want to be around them,” Daugherty said.

Judge Owen says he wants to be clear that this isn’t a free pass for criminals—it’s a rigorous program.

“You have to constantly be reporting to your probation officer, you have to constantly be  reporting to the courts, you have to constantly be reporting to your medical providers. This is something that is only available to people who really believe they can put their life back together,” Owen said.

Webster’s mental health court has been operational since September 11th.  There will be a conference to unveil the new court tomorrow morning (10/9) at 11:00 at the Webster County Court House.