Mental Health Court improving lives of mentally ill offenders

Mental Health Court improving lives of mentally ill offenders

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Some non-violent offenders with mental illness are being allowed to avoid jail time through a diversion program called Mental Health Court.

The program began a decade ago with the goal of improving the lives of the mentally ill and keeping them out of jail by addressing the underlying problems contributing to their criminal behavior.

"We're not fixing them, you know, and we're not curing them, but we are helping them improve their lives," said Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Heather Russel.

Judge Russel, along with Judge Lisa Allen meet with social workers, public defenders and mental health professionals to discuss each defendant scheduled to appear in Mental Health Court.

To qualify for the program, the defendants must have been diagnosed with a mental illness, such as depression or schizophrenia.

"We connect them with services. We have a whole team of people... and all together we try to keep them on track with their treatment," said Judge Allen.

Most of defendants enrolled in the program found themselves in trouble due to their mental illness.

Robert Ritter, who has Schizoaffective disorder, was charged with assault after a confrontation with an officer. Ritter could have been given serious jail time, but he was accepted into the Mental Health Court program which he says has been a big help. 

"After all is said and done with... very positive. It helped me feel better when it comes to doing, doing better for myself because of going through the experience of that program, and as well I feel it's made me a better person, and it's helped my mental side too," said Ritter.

Officials say not everyone who enrolls in the program completes it and are then usually sentenced like any other offender.

However, Ritter is among the defendants who have successfully completed the program, which means the criminal charges against him will be expunged from his record.

In addition, of all the defendants who completed the program, 92% have had no convictions in the first year and 77% have had no convictions to date.

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