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Potter County’s mental health court helps those with mental illness stay out of jail

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 9:09 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2021 at 9:01 AM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - Potter County’s new mental health court helps incarcerated people with mental illness to get out of the criminal justice system and instead get help and treatment from resources in the community.

The Sheriff said between 30 and 40 percent of inmates at the Potter County Detention Center have some type of mental illness.

With the lack of resources, beds and programs in the jail, staff hopes this new court will help get people who have no business being in there out of the jail.

“We’re described by one psychiatrist as the largest mental health pavilion in the Panhandle, and we don’t want that. Our detention center is designed for people for rehabilitation who have committed a crime and we can hold them accountable for. We’re talking about people who really have no business being in jail. They have no idea why they’re there. We have to get them help before we can start charging them with a criminal offence,” Brian Thomas, Potter County Sheriff.

Some types of cases the court takes are theft cases, DWI’s, minor assaults, family violence cases; but no serious violence offenses.

The court identifies community partners like the Texas Panhandle Center and other health care providers to work with the defendants and conserve the limited jail resources.

“The importance of the mental court to the community is that our resources are stretched extremely thin. The jail is not the best place to get help and treatment. So, by coming into the mental health court, it allows us to break them out of jail and partner them with local agencies, Texas Panhandle Center and other providers to get them the help they need and find resources that they probably would not find on their own,” said Judge Matt Hand, Potter County Court at Law #2 and mental health court judge.

To qualify for the court, the attorney must identify the defendant’s type of mental health issue that may be significantly contributing to their criminal actions.

The defendant also must have a diagnosed mental health issue.

After an application is made and the person is qualified for the court, then a treatment will be provided.

“They report once a week. I’m sort of the ultimate accountability partner in this process. They report to me, we talk about how their week has gone, how their treatments going and at the end of the program if they have been successful, the criminal case is dismissed. Hopefully the idea is that we break the cycle of criminal behavior because of mental health issues. Help them find treatment and a better place and move them out of the criminal system,” said Judge Hand.

The court is now in the process of developing a procedures manual.

Once that’s approved, their goal is to work as a regional court so they can make the services available to other counties that lack these types of resources.

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