By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
I’ve blogged extensively about mental health and how it intersects with criminal law. The over-lap can’t be understated. You can watch a podcast I’ve done on the topic here.
Some of the good news is many criminal law judges, probation departments and even prosecutors have gotten on-board with gearing to include mental heath treatment as well as their normal repertoire. It never hurts to ask your lawyer or your loved one’s lawyer what the available options are.
I can’t tell you how many mothers, fathers, spouses and other loved-ones of my clients have told me their main goal in a case is to simply get them help. But the criminal justice system – and the adversarial process wasn’t naturally built to accomplish tasks like mental health treatment. There are pros and actually cons to Court-Run mental health programs folks should be aware of.
Advantages of Court-Run Mental Health Programs
On the plus side, these court-run programs are designed for the indigent or near indigent. So cost which often dictates far more than it should is hopefully all but eliminated.
The county (or whatever governmental sub-division you’re dealing with) has access to more infrastructure and services than a private entity might be able to have.
The court also has a “captive” audience meaning the individual has no real choice but to participate. Anyone who has a loved one who is either so disturbed or oblivious to their mental health disorder that they refuse treatment knows how valuable this can be.
For me as a criminal defense lawyer – I’m always focused on what happens to the client in 10 or 20 years based on what we do today. Here are some important questions I ask about any government program:
- Will this program require my client to be convicted as a price of admission?
- Can I get this off my client’s record in addition to getting the treatment (often known as mental health diversion)?
- Do I actually trust the county’s ability to do what they say they can do to help?
- Am I just signing someone up for the county to be “in their hair” for years to come?
- Are there better private alternatives which are viable options?
The Bottom Line on Court-Run Mental Illness Programs
Make no mistake – it’s fabulous to see courts simply move in this direction. Judges and probation officers paying attention to these crucial aspects and triggers for criminal cases is a great thing – and you know people are really starting to get the importance of mental health when the prosecutors even get involved.
But going into a mental health program run by a judge or probation department is still – and probably always will be – a “look before you leap” situation. There are always many factors to consider.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has been designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.