As part of a collaborative effort between law officials, Collin County has launched a specialty court to divert mentally ill offenders into a court-supervised outpatient program, according to a news release.

The Collin County Adult Mental Health Court combines mental health treatment with frequent court appearances, home visits, case management, counseling and community-based support services. The court began accepting eligible misdemeanor and felony cases Feb. 23.

“This program is the result of a collaboration with the judges, district attorney's office, the sheriff, [and] probation and defense lawyers to see if there's a better way than incarceration,” said Jennifer Edgeworth, judge of the 219th District Court.

Edgeworth is overseeing the program with Judge Lance Baxter of County Court at Law 3, according to the news release. The program’s team will also include Program Coordinator Donald Bell, case manager Michelle Garcia, specialist Molly Craft and defense attorney Kim Laseter.

The specialty court will be open to people 17 years and older who are diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective, major depression, bipolar or post-traumatic stress disorder prior to the offense. A case is not eligible if it involves a “3G” offense: murder, capital murder, indecency with a child, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault or aggravated robbery.

The team aims to treat the root of the problem for individuals with mental illness instead of letting them cycle through jails, Edgeworth said. If the program can meet the needs of certain individuals now rather than waiting, it will benefit the community and the individual, she said.

“What we've seen from programs in other counties is that it can be successful, that individuals will become well because ... they had the right treatment, and they are able to contribute to society,” she said.

The specialty court team will work with community partners such as LifePath Systems to provide mental health treatment for offenders, safeguard the community and reduce need for incarceration, according to the release.

LifePath Systems operates as a not-for-profit center and is the designated behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disabilities authority for Collin County, according to its website.

“Collin County continues to make great strides serving those with mental health concerns,” said Danielle Sneed, deputy clinical officer of LifePath Systems, in a statement. “We are proud the new diversion court for offenses involving persons with mental illness has been created and appreciate another opportunity to assist those suffering from mental health issues in the criminal justice system and provide them with services needed to remain stable.”

County officials estimate the program will run from nine to 12 months, measured in three phases, for each participant. Those who complete it successfully can apply to have their cases dismissed and expunged from court records, according to the news release.

In order to successfully complete the program, an individual must have met several requirements, including managing medication and mental health services, demonstrating their ability to maintain long-term sobriety, and being employed or currently working toward employment, according to an email from Edgeworth.

The specialty court was funded by a grant from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office last fall, according to the news release. The team is hoping to hear 40 eligible cases within a year of opening applications, Edgeworth said.