By Carlos Andres López
Establishing a mental health court in Doña Ana County in New Mexico officials say, would help get into treatment people who commit crimes because of underlying mental health conditions. It could also reduce recidivism and cut incarceration costs.
So-called mental health courts serve as jail-diversionary mechanisms and have been growing in popularity during the past 20 years. The number of such courts in the United States has grown from four in 1997 to more than 300 today, the Council of State Governments estimates.
Five mental health courts exist in New Mexico. They’re all in the northern part of the state.
“You see someone make a complete transformation, which in the end increases their quality of life but also public safety for our community,” Kelly Bradford, director of pretrial services at the 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque, said of the mental health court in the criminal division, which was established in 2003.
By the end of the two-year program, Bradford said, participants “move into situations where they have employment, some of them may be in school, they’re reunited with family, they’re engaging in counseling and therapy on their own, (and) they’re no longer cycling through the criminal justice system.”
If 3rd Judicial District Judge Mary Rosner has her way, a mental health court will be established in Doña Ana County by 2021. With the help of a $2.8 million grant, a pilot project focusing on assisted outpatient treatment is already underway and could transition into a mental health court.