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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Ottawa, Canada
    Posts
    32,619

    Court blends justice with vital support for the mentally ill

    Year-old specialty court blends justice with vital support for the mentally ill
    August 08, 2005
    The Arizona Daily Star

    Every Thursday Judge Nanette Warner leans forward, smiles warmly and, her voice laced with concern, asks the same questions:

    "So how are the voices today?"

    "How are you feeling?"

    "Are you sleeping OK?"

    Warner, a Pima County Superior Court judge, doesn't normally show so much compassion for the defendants in her courtroom, but these people are different.

    The people who gather in her courtroom on Thursdays have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness and are accused of committing a felony.

    Warner presides over what is known as Mental Health Court.

    It was created in July 2004 to help those in the criminal justice system identify seriously mentally ill defendants early on and get them the help they need effectively and efficiently. The hope is the defendants will be able to lead productive lives without committing new crimes again and again.

    People accused of murder, sexual assault and child molestation are not eligible.

    Those admitted into the program go through the legal system in much the same way as a defendant without a mental illness, but they are surrounded by a support system both before their case is resolved and after, said Kate Lawson, Mental Health Court coordinator.

    The team, consisting of the judge, a prosecutor, defense attorney, specially trained probation officers and mental-health counselors, makes sure the defendants are taking their medication, getting treatment and living in appropriate housing.

    If convicted and placed on probation, the defendant must report to Warner regularly on Thursday mornings for compliance hearings.

    Those who do well receive certificates of achievement and can eventually graduate.

    Those who do not will go to prison.

    At any one time there are about 90 people in the program.

    On Aug. 25, the court will celebrate its first year with the graduation of three defendants.

    Haunted by a tragedy, Warner volunteered to head up the so-called "specialty court."

    A few years back, Warner placed a mentally ill defendant with no history of violence on probation for theft. A short time later, he killed someone.

    Unknown to Warner and his probation officer, the paranoid schizophrenic had stopped taking his medications.

    "If the Mental Health Court had existed back then, we would have known he wasn't taking his meds because we would have had this coordination between his treatment providers, his probation officer and the court, and a warrant could have been issued," Warner said.

    "It saddens me. It should never have happened," she said. "What do you say to that victim's family? There's nothing you can say."

    The incident never strays far from her mind, especially when she is dealing with a noncompliant defendant.

    "Mental illness is not an excuse for criminal behavior," Warner said. "It plays into it, but they've still got to take responsibility for their actions."

    Just as someone with diabetes or heart disease must watch their diet, someone with mental illness must take it upon themselves to take their medications, participate in treatment and refrain from alcohol and illicit drugs, Warner said.

    On Thursday, Dr. Rachel Schacht, 36, learned the hard way.

    Warner sent the dermatologist to prison for one year for violating her probation in a drunken-driving case.

    Schacht, who suffers from a panic disorder and post-traumatic stress syndrome, violated her probation by disappearing for several months, failing to take part in mental-health treatment and by marrying a man prosecutors say has a criminal history.

    Several others on Thursday earned certificates of achievement along with some applause.

    "The Mental Health Court is a very good system," said defense attorney Michael Rosenbluth. "When the defendants get those certificates, it means so much to them because it shows someone cares about them and is on their side. Most of these people have never had a sense of accomplishment."

    Fernando Machado Cisneros, 47, said he can't count the number of times he's been arrested. Thanks to the program, however, he's gone a year without getting into trouble. He's one of the three Mental Health Court participants who is graduating later this month.

    "The way I see it, it's all right," Cisneros said. "If you go in and try to pick up the tools to use in situations life gives you, it's OK."

    According to court records, Cisneros has been arrested numerous times on charges ranging from driving under the influence to possession of marijuana and criminal trespass. At different times he's been diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoid personality disorder and bipolar disorder with psychotic features.

    He began participating in Mental Health Court after pleading guilty last year to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Court records show he was arrested after exposing himself to a few neighbors and trying to hit them with a baseball bat.

    Cisneros' probation and surveillance officers, Rosanna Kent and Phil Grajeda, say Cisneros has turned 180 degrees since he began the program. He's not as reluctant to take his medications as he once was, for instance.

    Cisneros said he isn't mentally ill, but the program has helped him nonetheless.

    "I have a little bit more patience," he said. "I'm more calm and I'm trying to express myself in a better way."

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Ottawa, Canada
    Posts
    32,619

    Court blends justice with vital support for the mentally ill

    Year-old specialty court blends justice with vital support for the mentally ill
    August 08, 2005
    The Arizona Daily Star

    Every Thursday Judge Nanette Warner leans forward, smiles warmly and, her voice laced with concern, asks the same questions:

    "So how are the voices today?"

    "How are you feeling?"

    "Are you sleeping OK?"

    Warner, a Pima County Superior Court judge, doesn't normally show so much compassion for the defendants in her courtroom, but these people are different.

    The people who gather in her courtroom on Thursdays have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness and are accused of committing a felony.

    Warner presides over what is known as Mental Health Court.

    It was created in July 2004 to help those in the criminal justice system identify seriously mentally ill defendants early on and get them the help they need effectively and efficiently. The hope is the defendants will be able to lead productive lives without committing new crimes again and again.

    People accused of murder, sexual assault and child molestation are not eligible.

    Those admitted into the program go through the legal system in much the same way as a defendant without a mental illness, but they are surrounded by a support system both before their case is resolved and after, said Kate Lawson, Mental Health Court coordinator.

    The team, consisting of the judge, a prosecutor, defense attorney, specially trained probation officers and mental-health counselors, makes sure the defendants are taking their medication, getting treatment and living in appropriate housing.

    If convicted and placed on probation, the defendant must report to Warner regularly on Thursday mornings for compliance hearings.

    Those who do well receive certificates of achievement and can eventually graduate.

    Those who do not will go to prison.

    At any one time there are about 90 people in the program.

    On Aug. 25, the court will celebrate its first year with the graduation of three defendants.

    Haunted by a tragedy, Warner volunteered to head up the so-called "specialty court."

    A few years back, Warner placed a mentally ill defendant with no history of violence on probation for theft. A short time later, he killed someone.

    Unknown to Warner and his probation officer, the paranoid schizophrenic had stopped taking his medications.

    "If the Mental Health Court had existed back then, we would have known he wasn't taking his meds because we would have had this coordination between his treatment providers, his probation officer and the court, and a warrant could have been issued," Warner said.

    "It saddens me. It should never have happened," she said. "What do you say to that victim's family? There's nothing you can say."

    The incident never strays far from her mind, especially when she is dealing with a noncompliant defendant.

    "Mental illness is not an excuse for criminal behavior," Warner said. "It plays into it, but they've still got to take responsibility for their actions."

    Just as someone with diabetes or heart disease must watch their diet, someone with mental illness must take it upon themselves to take their medications, participate in treatment and refrain from alcohol and illicit drugs, Warner said.

    On Thursday, Dr. Rachel Schacht, 36, learned the hard way.

    Warner sent the dermatologist to prison for one year for violating her probation in a drunken-driving case.

    Schacht, who suffers from a panic disorder and post-traumatic stress syndrome, violated her probation by disappearing for several months, failing to take part in mental-health treatment and by marrying a man prosecutors say has a criminal history.

    Several others on Thursday earned certificates of achievement along with some applause.

    "The Mental Health Court is a very good system," said defense attorney Michael Rosenbluth. "When the defendants get those certificates, it means so much to them because it shows someone cares about them and is on their side. Most of these people have never had a sense of accomplishment."

    Fernando Machado Cisneros, 47, said he can't count the number of times he's been arrested. Thanks to the program, however, he's gone a year without getting into trouble. He's one of the three Mental Health Court participants who is graduating later this month.

    "The way I see it, it's all right," Cisneros said. "If you go in and try to pick up the tools to use in situations life gives you, it's OK."

    According to court records, Cisneros has been arrested numerous times on charges ranging from driving under the influence to possession of marijuana and criminal trespass. At different times he's been diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoid personality disorder and bipolar disorder with psychotic features.

    He began participating in Mental Health Court after pleading guilty last year to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Court records show he was arrested after exposing himself to a few neighbors and trying to hit them with a baseball bat.

    Cisneros' probation and surveillance officers, Rosanna Kent and Phil Grajeda, say Cisneros has turned 180 degrees since he began the program. He's not as reluctant to take his medications as he once was, for instance.

    Cisneros said he isn't mentally ill, but the program has helped him nonetheless.

    "I have a little bit more patience," he said. "I'm more calm and I'm trying to express myself in a better way."

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