Letter: Mental health court

March 24, 2014 

The front page article in the Herald's March 2 edition, "Filling the Need," cast light on a critical need in our criminal justice system -- development of a mental health court.

I've had the experience attorney Scott Johnson notes in the article; I've seen many faces of mental illness processing through our criminal justice system, many that became familiar to me as I saw them repeatedly over my 23 years on the bench.

Mental illness isn't a crime, but, untreated, it can cause criminal behavior. Tragically, absent a comprehensive, integrated community mental health system, the default destination of many mentally ill offenders is the criminal justice system, which is neither designed nor equipped to deal with them. Processing mentally ill misdemeanant offenders through the current criminal justice system, without addressing the underlying, causative mental illness, doesn't curb, and indeed, often contributes to the repetition and aggravation of such behavior. It is a tragedy, both for the untreated offenders and for our community.

Following the therapeutic model that has proven so effective in our drug courts, a mental health court can identify mentally ill nonfelony offenders, connect them with appropriate mental health treatment and services, and closely monitor their progress through treatment.

DENNIS YULE, Prosser

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