Hudson – District of Columbia court has been approved to serve as a mental health court for the first time.
The Adult Drug Treatment Courts, Veterans Treatment Court, Domestic Violence Courts, and Integrated Domestic Violence Courts in the Third Judicial District are designated “Problem Courts” in the District of Columbia.
Acting Chief Administrative Justice Tamiko Amaker of the Unified Court System issued the order, and Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson shared a copy. The order becomes effective immediately.
Columbia and Greene counties are included in the third judicial district.
The process of obtaining approval for mental health court status is a lengthy one, said Hudson City Judge Cheryl Roberts.
“The mental health courts in New York have to be approved by the court administration office,” she said. “We had to provide documentation on how the mental health tribunal would operate, the papers we would use, and most importantly show that we had a commitment from the various parties in the process to participate productively in the mental health tribunal.”
Roberts said she was proud of the county team that helped support the endeavour.
“It required cooperation from the attorney general’s office, the public defender’s office, and most importantly all of the providers, such as the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Mental Health, as well as Twin County Recovery Services and Greener Pathways,” Roberts said. And many more.
Mental health courts are a form of cooperative court that provides specific services and treatment for defendants dealing with mental illness. They provide an alternative to the traditional court system by emphasizing a problem-solving model and connecting defendants to a variety of rehabilitation services and support networks.
Each mental health court has different requirements for participants and the services available. The aim is to support the successful return of inmates to the community, reduce recidivism, increase public safety and improve the quality of life in the community. Mental health courts were implemented as a direct response to addressing prisoners with underlying mental illnesses.
Mental health courts rely on analysis, individualized treatment plans, and ongoing judicial monitoring to address the mental health needs of offenders and public safety issues.
“When I first hired Cheryl, our goal was to make it easier and simpler to provide resources to people with mental health services, and this is a great addition to this business,” Johnson said.
In 2022, 64% of inmates, 54% of state inmates, and 45% of federal inmates came forward with mental health concerns, according to an American Psychological Association report.
Dwayne Brown served four years at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility in Greene County.
“Hell would be an upgrade to my Coxsackie incarnation,” Brown said. “I went for a minor drug offense and possession of marijuana, and I also had a gun charge. I got locked up with a lot of crazy people. I remember the first week I saw someone pee in a cup and throw it at a relative, he went into the hole for a long time. Being in solitude for a long time. It will make your mind play tricks on you. When I got to know the prisoner who threw urine better, I noticed that he had a lot of mental health problems. People like that don’t need to be incarcerated. They need help.”
Tom Miley, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Oversight, said more than a quarter of the state’s inmates receive mental health services, and one-fifth of them suffer from a serious mental illness.
“Of the 31,310 individuals in DOCCS custody as of January 1, 2023, 8,795, or 28%, were in a mental health office and receiving mental health services,” Miley said. “Of these 8,795 individuals, 1,807, or 21%, had a serious mental illness.”
State law requires the Office of Mental Health to provide special programs along with a continuum of care for incarcerated individuals with mental illness in DOCCS facilities. Special programs and services are also available for incarcerated individuals with sensory impairments and intellectual or developmental disabilities.
There are over 1,400 beds for incarcerated persons with serious mental illness and a range of rehabilitation and treatment services for other incarcerated individuals with mental health caseloads.
“We want to try to give people in mental health court an alternative to prison,” said Roberts. “The goal is to get them into therapy or into a program where they can connect with us, work with program providers, and get out of trouble. Then they will avoid jail… It’s an important goal to get people to stop going to prison and cycling through the criminal justice system and get on with their lives with Increase public safety at the same time.”