In 1999 the Anchorage District Court established a mental health court project to address the needs of mentally disable misdemeanants. On a sample day in 1997, over a third (37%) of inmates in state custody--over 1,100 individuals--were estimated to suffer from mental disabilities (which include mental illness, developmental disabilities, organic brain disorders, and related disorders). Mentally disabled misdemeanant offenders who volunteer to have their cases heard in mental health court can, when appropriated, have the option of following a carefully monitored plan of mental health treatment and services instead of going to jail.
Anchorage's mental health court, one of only three in the nation (the other two also relatively new, are in Broward County, Florida, and King Country, Washington), has five broad purposes: (1) to preserve public safety, (2) to reduce inappropriate incarceration of mentally disabled offenders and promote their well-being, (3) to relieve the burden on the Department of Corrections presented by inmates with mental disabilities, (4) to reduce repeated criminal activity among mentally disabled offenders (legal recidivism), and (5) to reduce psychiatric hospitalization of mentally disabled offenders (clinical recidivism). To achieve these ends, the Court Coordinated Resources Project (CCRP) functions as a partnership among the Alaska Court System, the Alaska Department of Corrections, the Alaska Department of lHealth and Social Services, and over twenty local law enforcement, social service, and public safety agencies, and organizations.
Created as a specialty mental health court project by Administrative Order 3AN-99-02, issued by Presiding Judge Elaine Andrews, the CCRP expedites and maximizes responsible alternatives to jail for misdemeanants with mental disabilities. The Order specifically recognized that failure to provide appropriate services for these offenders has let to "a revolving door of clinical and legal recidivism" among the mentally disabled and has increased the risks to public safety. In addition, the Order recognized
The need for a more humane approach to divert defendants, with mental disabilities from overcrowded jails and into community treatment,
The enormous financial and administrative burden on the Department of Corrections as the largest provider of institutional mental health services in the state, and
The need for specialized, trained mental health court judges and for centralized coordination of court, agency, and mental health resources.
Designated by the Order as judges for the Court Coordinated Resources Project are Judge Stephanie Rhoades and Judge John R. Lohff. Judge Rhoades is also responsible for coordinating the role of the court with law enforcement, prosecuting, and defense agencies; with the Department of Corrections; and with mental health and other treatment providers.
To coordinate the specialized sentencing, community services, treatment planning, and monitoring of mentally disabled offenders, the Department of Corrections has established the Jail Alternatives Services (JAS) pilot project for up to 40 eligible defendants, with three-year funding from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. The JAS Case Coordinator works directly with mentally disabled misdemeanants and service providers to create and monitor an individualized treatment plan, which the offender must follow as a condition of probation or bail.
Early reports indicate that mentally disabled offenders who participate in the mental health court and complete a treatment plan through JAS are far less likely than nonparticipating offenders to be arrested again or to be admitted to "Alaska Psychiatric Institute. Community service providers also report that JAS monitoring and oversight have significantly increased their clients' motivation to comply with their treatment plans.
Right now, CCRP's most urgent priority is funding and hiring two positions; a CCRP project manager to handle all issues of CCRP administration, and a CCRP case coordinator to link non-JAS defendants with the services they need and monitor their progress. Both positions are critically necessary to the continued success and expansion of the Anchorage mental health court project.
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last modified 9/2/98