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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gov. Deal approves creation of mental health court system

As CL's editorial board mentioned in this week's editorial about the impending reform of Georgia's criminal justice system, Governor Nathan Deal has advocated for routing non-violent offenders to drug and mental health courts as a way to reduce prison populations and improve recidivism.

There are already around 30 drug court programs in Georgia, and today Deal signed a bill to create a system of mental health courts.

Much in the way Georgia's drug courts divert certain drug-addicted offenders to treatment programs rather than prisons, mental health courts can send low-level offenders who are mentally ill or developmentally disabled into alternative programs that focus on rehabilitation.

The bill says, "In any criminal case in which a defendant suffers from a mental illness or developmental disability, or a co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorder, and the defendant meets the eligibility criteria for the mental health court division, the court may refer the case to the mental health court division [prior to sentencing, as part of a sentence, or, in some cases, if probation is revoked]."

Each mental health court division has to come up with its own written, eligibility requirements, but the bill specifies that in most cases people charged with murder, armed robbery, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation, or child molestation won't be eligible.

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