A one-year mental health court demonstration project will launch soon in Scott County, thanks to a $50,000 grant from Genesis Philanthropy.
Members of the Quad-Cities Interfaith Restorative Justice Task Force, judges, prosecutors and public defenders, along with mental and health care providers, announced the grant Friday during a news conference in front of the Scott County Courthouse.
“We believe it’s very wise investment,” said Missy Gowey, executive director of Genesis Philanthropy. “We believe it can serve the needs of patients and families who have had a long-term struggle with mental illness."
The restorative justice task force has been exploring the idea of a mental health court in Scott County for more than a year.
The goal of a mental health court is to better treat people with mental health conditions who are in the criminal justice system.
The Rev. Clark Olson-Smith, president of Quad-Cities Interfaith, said prison and punishment is not the answer for those suffering from mental illness.
“Today, there is hope because with intensive treatment and accountability, there is a chance for redemption,” he said. “There’s a chance for healing, a chance for people with mental illness to become well and to turn their lives around. That’s good news for all of us.”
Mental health courts can help reduce the number of criminal convictions of people with mental illness and the number of people in prisons and jails.
That will be a cost savings to the county and improve the functionality of those who are successfully diverted from the criminal justice system, District Court Judge Mark Smith said Friday.
Smith will oversee the demonstration project.
He said Scott County needs a mental health court because “the current system is not working.”
“To my right is the biggest inpatient mental health facility in Scott County,” Smith said of the Scott County Jail. “It’s not a good place for the mentally ill. Being mentally ill is not a crime.”
Smith said it’s not uncommon to see defendants with mental health issues go off their medication and wind up in front of him and other judges multiple times.
“We’re trying to break that cycle,” he said. “Mental health courts across the country have been successful in doing that.”
Although no funding has come from the state for the program, the Iowa Supreme Court has allowed Scott County to set up the demonstration project in large part because of the grass-roots support in the community.
The Supreme Court has mandated that the court be up and running by July 1. That’s when referred candidates will be screened to determine whether they are eligible for the program, Smith said.
Those accepted into the program will start meeting with the mental health court team on a weekly basis in August, Smith said.
Smith said the mental health court team is hoping to start with a small number of participants because “it’s an evolving process.”
Transitions Mental Health Rehabilitation will serve as the care coordinator for the Scott County demonstration court.
Transitions also oversees the mental health court in Rock Island County, which was established in 2007.
Courtney Stenzel, director of residential services for Transitions, said those who are accepted into the program will immediately have services wrapped around them.
Those services include mental health treatment, therapy and housing and employment assistance, she said.
Participants are supervised “very thoroughly” throughout the program by the mental health court team, which includes members from the offices of the county attorney, public defender, probation, the Department of Corrections and a care coordinator.
Participants must be in the program for a minimum of one year.
“Ideally, as they work through this program, they’ll become much more stable and able to take care of themselves independently,” she said. “By the end, the charges they came in on will go away, and they will be able to continue their life and make progress.”
Not only will the court help those suffering from mental illness, but it also aids participants' family members and the community as a whole, Stenzel said.
Genesis Health System has donated rent-free office space at its West Central Park Avenue campus for Transitions to open its operations in Scott County, said Genesis spokesman Ken Croken.
Croken said the location will provide participants with access not only to Transitions, but to Genesis' outpatient services and Vera French, which is located at the west campus.
Croken said he hopes the results of the one-year demonstration project will be so compelling that “we’ll be able to market the program on a permanent basis to other government entities, foundations and community groups."
The goal is to eventually expand services to the entire 7th Judicial Court District, which includes Cedar, Clinton, Jackson and Muscatine counties.