Editorial: 'Therapeutic courts' address a dire need
Mental health and the myriad factors that cause people to fall into errant behaviors affecting them, their families and society at large rise to the forefront each time this country is hit with a mass tragedy, such as the shootings in a Colorado movie theater and a school in Connecticut. We cannot forget, either, the shootings in Tucson in 2011that injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others and killed six people, including federal District Court Chief Judge John Roll, Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman, and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green.
We now know that mental incapacity may well have triggered these horrific massacres and we ache over the fact maybe they would not have happened if we had been able to spot a derangement and get these people into proper mental healthcare.
In light of this question, Yavapai County Superior Court judges have taken a commendable step.
Judge Celé Hancock has transitioned into a full-time mental health court. Her assignment is known as "problem-solving" or "therapeutic" courts, which are new to the county. Hancock has begun with a mental-health caseload but will likely soon expand that to include drug court, DUI, veterans' court and family law.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), of Arizona's approximately 6/5 million residents, nearly 221,000 adults live with serious mental illness and about 73,000 children live with serious mental-health conditions.
As NAMI points out on its website, untreated mental illness has deadly and costly consequences. To give just a few examples: In 2006, 979 Arizonans died by suicide; during the 2006-2007 school year approximately 69 percent of Arizona students ages 14 and under living with serious mental-health conditions who were in special education classes dropped out of high school; and Arizona's public health system provides services to only 18 percent of adults who live with serious mental illness.
These figures are disconcerting, to say the least.
When it comes to the criminal justice systems in the state, NAMI says they "bear a heavy burden.
In 2006, the latest for which statistics are available, nearly 2,000 children were incarcerated in Arizona's juvenile justice system. Nearly 70 percent of these youths are coping with mental health disorders, some with severe mental conditions.
In 2008, NAMI said, approximately 8,900 adults with mental illnesses were incarcerated in prisons in Arizona.
Hancock told the Courier that the courts had noticed that there are a lot of individuals who have mental health problems and they return time and time again to court.
"And we're dealing with it in a criminal way because they were charged with crimes."
She sees her goal as trying to find solutions to those defendants' problems that could keep them from re-offending. She particularly wants to help veterans, she said.
Hancock's new assignment is a ray of hope that people who need help are going to get it.
We applaud this and offer praise to Judge Hancock for her willingness to tackle what has seemed an insurmountable problem.