Mental Health Court in Southwest Louisiana

In Louisiana, one in five people experiences a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. There are an estimated 650,000 adults with a diagnosable mental illness in the state yet Louisiana ranks 47th for overall mental health care in the U.S. This means the state has a lot of people with a diagnosable mental illness, but little access to care.

In some cases, people with diagnosed mental illnesses end up in the judicial system. In the following video, Calcasieu Parish Assistant District Attorney Charles Robinson talks about the Mental Health Court that is available in Southwest Louisiana that may help some people.

If you would rather read what Calcasieu Parish Assistant District Attorney Charles Robinson had to say about the Mental Illness Court, scroll past the video for a transcription.

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The following is text from the video.

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Video transcription beginning:

The Mental Health Court program here in the 14 Judicial District; it’s a specialty court program for folks with a mental health diagnosis and it operates like a special type of probation for them. It’s an alternative to incarceration, and when these people are accepted into the program and they plead guilty to their charges we do release them out, out of incarceration and they interact with caseworkers on a daily basis. We make sure that they’re med compliant, that they’re compliant with their psychiatric medications. We make sure that they have employment, a place to live. We make sure that they’re touching base with our caseworkers. They’re having group therapy and generally, that’s how the program works
and it gets these people into a healthy lifestyle. So we can’t take people who are legally insane. A lot of times when you say mental health court that’s the first thing that comes to mind is folks who are legally insane and the criminal justice system has a different avenue
for those people.

For us it’s people who are not legally insane, but who do suffer from some type of mental health diagnosis, and that brings to mind somebody who maybe has a bipolar disorder who’s not legally insane. They know the difference between right and wrong, but they suffer and they struggle with, with their disease. Maybe sometimes don’t take their medication and they act out or somebody who’s schizophrenic. These types of people are the type of people that we see. Who aren’t legally insane but can use help from our program from our caseworkers. Most importantly the types of people who want to help themselves. You know that’s one of our main things that we look for in a person. It’s not as much as can we help them, it’s do they want help. We’ve learned about a person. We began observing that person and we meet with them and we assess them. This is when they have open charges and they’re referred to us. Sometimes by the defendant themselves, sometimes they’ll learn about mental health court and say “I’m interested in this program.” Sometimes it’s their lawyer, sometimes it’s their judge, sometimes it’s their prosecutor. Their prosecutor may see them in court and say “Hey this person looks like they might, they might be a good fit for a mental health court.” so we take a look at them.

We have them come every Wednesday to court. While they’re typically incarcerated we’ll have them transported to court every Wednesday they’ll meet with our caseworkers, we’ll do interviews.We’ll do research on their medical records with their permission and we’ll reach out to their past psychiatrist and we’ll see if they have a mental health diagnosis that fits. We also look at the police reports, we talk to the police about how they were. We look at the facts, and we ask ourselves is this something that stems from their diagnosis? Is this something that we can help? Is this someone who’s not too dangerous? We also meet with that person extensively and we make sure that this is somebody who’s engaged and who wants to become a healthy contributing member of society.

The mental health court team primarily consists of Judge Robert Wyatt, who does a fantastic job of making sure these people have everything they need as far as far as employment and housing. He’s got a lot of connections and he uses those connections very well to make sure that these people if they want a job they have a job. We also have coalition services, which is a private company that the court has contracted, who employs or contracts Volunteers of America. We have caseworkers through them who interact with our clients on a daily basis by phone and a lot of times face-to-face at any time these folks come up to the mental health court program to touch base for anything that they might need. They also meet with them every Wednesday for group therapy things like that.

Also on our staff or meeting with us at staffing is the nurse at the jail. We sometimes have a doctor who works at the jail. They kind of keep us in the loop as far as people they see who are incarcerated who may not even realize that they have a mental health a mental health issue and they may be able to help us get the right information that we need to determine if that person has an appropriate diagnosis. The type of diagnosis, I think you touched on this earlier, that we’re looking for is we’re gonna see a lot of bipolar disorder, we’re gonna see a lot of schizophrenia. Those are the ones that we typically go for. Surprisingly some of the folks with the schizophrenic diagnosis are some of our most successful in the program. When medicated and participating in therapy, these people can really thrive if given the right support system that they need they can really do great.

It starts off with observing the program, and they typically observe for anywhere from one month to two months. That’s the time that we spend researching their criminal history. Researching the facts of their particular case. Touching base with the victim on the case. Meeting with them. Meeting with their family. Finding out where they’re gonna live if they’re
released from custody, and like I said, that takes from anywhere from a month to two months. Once they’re accepted and plead guilty into the program and are released on that , like I said it’s a type of probation and they’re released into the program, they typically are in the program for about two years. Throughout that process, they have different phases. Things that they have to complete. Different community service tasks. They have to give different testimonies in group therapy. They have to maintain med compliance. They have to undergo drug testing at random. That typically lasts like I said for about two years. If somebody completes the program the Louisiana law does allow us to ask that Their conviction be set aside and dismissed, which operates very similarly to an expungement.

The District Attorney’s role not only myself as a prosecutor, but the district attorney himself does play a huge role in this. Not only by giving me authorization to make decisions but by
specifically looking at each case himself. Looking at the facts. Determining whether somebody’s too dangerous to be into the program. Researching their criminal history. Looking at different issues involving their diagnosis. He plays a big role in making those decisions.

I find that the program is very successful. The folks who we pinpoint and we
recognize we think are going to be successful tend to thrive. I would say that we’re very
particular about who we let in and there’s good cause for that. But when we
do find somebody who we think is appropriate and we put those resources into them, and though they may have a severe mental health diagnosis and real issues, we make sure that
they have folks pulling for them folks. Folks encouraging them. They have a job. They have somewhere to live. We make sure that they have a bed. Make sure that they have somebody to talk to when they need it, and make sure they have somebody holding them accountable, to be med compliant. They are incredibly successful and these people can be
fantastic, healthy contributing members of society.

Video transcription end:

Sources:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
2015 Mental Health America report
Youtube: Calcasieu Parish District Attorney

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