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Kent County Board approves funding for mental health court study

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The Kent County Board of Commissioners is looking at whether providing treatment to those suffering from mental health issues could help offenders recover and stay out of the justice system, while alleviating the strain on courts and jails.

While mental illness is one of the largest contributing factors in a convicted criminal’s tendency to wind up back in jail, the Kent County Board of Commissioners recently accepted a $33,000 grant to look into the creation of a mental health court. 

According to the Congressional Research Service, the federal prison population has jumped from about 25,000 to 219,000 prisoners in the past 30 years, an increase of nearly 790 percent. In addition, a 2015 study by Oxford University found that Ex-prisoners with common mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder, depression or alcoholism are more likely to re-commit offenses after their release than other former prisoners. 

In an effort to address this locally, a Kent County committee is being created to evaluate whether a mental health court system would help reduce the number of prisoners, with the idea that treatment for mental health issues may be a more suitable avenue than traditional incarceration. 

"We simply cannot operate in silos when it comes to the mental health system and the justice system," said Judge Donald A. Johnston, a 17th Circuit Court Chief Judge in a press release. "By working together, we hope to enhance public safety and make a difference in the lives of individuals who are trapped in an endless cycle of illness and jail." 

The committee will include staff from the 17th Circuit Court, the County Prosecutor and Public Defender’s office, and mental health treatment center Network 180.

The study is expected to be completed by September of 2017.

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