In a regular meeting, Judge Donna King of the 26th District Court requested Commissioners Court approval to apply for a $112,000 state grant to fund a felony mental health specialty court. The court would work to reduce recidivism by integrating mental health and other services with community partners, King said.
“This is one of the few instances in the criminal justice system where people are lining up on the same side,” King said. “Where people understand that a crime has been committed, but we also understand there are circumstances in that.”
The specialty court would work to increase public safety, facilitate participation in effective mental health and substance abuse treatment, and improve the quality of life for people with mental illnesses who have been charged with crimes, court documents said.
The court would also provide cohesive services by working with community partners, nonprofits, law enforcement, churches and peer organizations to create a support system, King said.
The grant would be through the office of governor. If awarded, it would provide for a court coordinator position, which King said would streamline the process on time-sensitive cases; a case manager; drug testing kits; supplies; and more, documents said.
Currently, the county has a criminal mental health program for those with misdemeanor charges, King said. This new court would be directed only toward those with mental illnesses that are deemed nonviolent, with public safety and justice as a priority, she said. Participants must also meet certain criteria, she added.
“This is something that we all care about and also makes sense,” King said.
King said that she had identified at least 22 individuals who could go through the program if funding allowed.
Commissioner Valerie Covey, who is involved in many county mental health initiatives, said it is the county’s stance to not use the jail as a mental health hospital.
“It’s hard to explain all of the different aspects we are looking at right now in the justice system,” Covey said. “We are trying to get folks help that they need in the mental health world so that they don’t just continue to float through the system.”
In November, the court also approved an application for more than $1.04 million in grant funding that would support mental health services in the local criminal justice system.
Williamson County also has several other specialty courts including one for veterans, a DWI/drug court and a teen court.