Mental health court offers a helping hand to those willing to accept

by LEWIS WALKER

Are the court and prison systems really meant to seek out the morally right thing for communities, or are they too quick to target and punish those who are mentally unstable? Maybe there are more solutions to clean and sober living rather than simply locking people up.

Sitting hunched over in the front row of chairs at a chapel service at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake shelter with a bloody tissue from a generic nosebleed was 72-year-old Herbert Smith. Smith has been homeless for so long he no longer calls a single place home. “Being homeless is nothing pretty, it ruins you in ways you couldn’t even imagine,” said Smith. Drugs are most of the reasons why Smith has come into contact with prison cells. “It’s sad because most of the drugs are coming from different countries, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what a COCO leaf looks like, but I got it somehow,” said smith.

Historically the mentally ill (homeless) have been victims to the shackles of the law enforcement due to the addictions they may suffer from. People working in a field close to these people have to come up with some sort of better resource, and one person in this field in Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney. Gill recently laid out his foundation for the University of Utah about his plans on helping these people.

Gill, using his own resources looks at ways to help these unsettled human beings, by providing systems such as drug court and mental health court. These focus to help guide them in the right direction. They aid in providing new resources such as correct prescriptions, temporary housing and teaching them about self medicating.

“We can only help the people that want to be helped,“ Gill said. These systems are totally voluntary. They give people the choice, the chance, as well as the responsibility to turn their lives around. The ones who choose to participate will undergo weekly urine analysis to detect relapses. This process places them in a non-judgmental community, surrounding them with others who may suffer from the same problems.

Are the policies of the Law Enforcement making things better? Of course, they do a lot for communities to make civilians feel safer and protected, but the question that stems from this is; are they doing it in the right ways? According to Herbert Smith, “They track down the easiest prey they can find.”

Kreeck Mendez agrees with the systems that Gill has helped to put in place to help these people get back on their feet. “I find Sim a good supporter of these people,” said Kreeck Mendez. Although the systems are not perfect, she says they are the best resource she has seen in her 20 years of working with the courts.

Many criticize these people being temporarily housed in the parks, but no one is quick to help. “We tend to go after the people that make us uncomfortable not necessarily the ones we dislike or scared of,” said Deborah Kreeck Mendez, a legal defense attorney. The prisons have become temporary housing cells for mentally unstable people due to deinstitutionalization of mental health institutions. These people now have no place to go, except turning to the streets, where it makes them easier to target. “They are harder to work with, so why not get them away so my world is better,” said Kreeck Mendez.

Drug abuse is a serious problem for a lot of people in this country. The choices made ruins lives, families, careers, and many more things. Some say why not help the addicts, some say why help them its their problem. Deborah Kreeck Mendez says, “Drug problems should not be imprisoned, but helped.” What good does it do to lock them up and not give case management skills to help them get over their mistakes?

The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country, is it considered wrong when all we do is preach about LIBERTY and FREEDOM? “The law enforcement targets the people that are least able to help themselves,” said Kreeck Mendez. “White middle-class people get off with drug possession much easier than non-whites,” added Kreeck Mendez

We must look at the world in sections if this is the case. We are divided into pieces, leaving cracks separating us depending on our socioeconomic statuses as well as our race, ethnic backgrounds, and our conviction rates. Who’s to say every crack in this world may one day be filled!

Drug courts beneficial for users seeking rehabilitation

by KATIE HARRINGTON

The Utah State Courts report that arrests for drug-related crimes have doubled in recent years, which has become motivation for the state to turn to drug court programming over incarceration.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill helped to implement drug courts in Utah more than 10 years ago.

But with continually rising drug arrests, the program has become important in recent years as a way to lower costs of incarceration for the Utah taxpayer.

“Drug courts work by recognizing that unless substance abuse ends, fines and jail time are unlikely to prevent future criminal activity,” according to the Utah State Courts.

Gill said the average cost to jail someone in Salt Lake County is $71 a day, a sum that quickly adds up when the rate of incarceration for non-violent drug users is consistently increasing.

“Crime is going to be around,” Gill said. “My challenge has been to create a situation where we can proactively reach in and collaborate with our communities in order to not be crisis managers, but be proactive agents who contribute to alleviating these issues.”

Gill said the way to do this is by promoting rehabilitation. After treatment in drug courts, Gill said, the recidivism arrest rate—that is, the likelihood in which people commit new crimes—decreased from 68 percent to around 23 percent.

John Anderson, a criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City, said the criminal recidivism rate is universally accepted in the legal system as statistical fact and speaks to the success of the programming.

According to the Urban Institute and the Center for Court Innovation, the success of drug courts has been seen nationwide. A study of 23 drug courts in seven states showed that drug use was reduced by one-third after 18 months of participation in the programs, and the case studies were responsible for half as many criminal acts as those not participating in drug court.

“Largely because of these reductions in criminal behavior, drug courts ended up saving an estimated $5,680 dollars per participant,” the study said.

But Anderson said that drug courts are only successful for those who actually want to be there.

“The courts are hard-core. The requirements to participate are onerous. If someone puts in some effort and takes it seriously, they can curb the addictions and behaviors that got them there in the first place.”

If someone doesn’t want to actively participate in the programming, jail time seems to be the easier alternative, Anderson said.

Tiffany Brown, who served as a Utah Assistant Attorney General and Salt Lake County District Attorney, has actively worked with drug court participants.

“It’s hard for me as a taxpayer or as a member of the legal system to incarcerate a person who is solely ingesting substances that are harmful to him or herself,” Brown said. “So when you have that straight drug user who doesn’t go out and commit property crimes or violent crimes, or doesn’t harm anyone else, I don’t want to waste money on that person—ever.”

Brown said drug court programming is an effective way to reduce costs because the taxpayers are not providing health care, foster care, and other programming for incarcerated people or their children.

But the system is not perfect, Brown said.

“It’s a uniquely designed system that helps take a step back from traditional legal procedures and promotes rehabilitation,” Brown said. “But flaws exist as a result of the inability to totally fund the system in the way that it needs to be funded, in order to ensure that the people who are participating are more concerned about usage and less concerned about being caught.”

If the person lacks the desire to recover, the program’s benefits drop substantially, Brown said.

But Gill said that overall, drug court is both the economically and psychologically sound alternative.

“It’s not just a good progressive idea that I’m talking about,” Gill said. “It has become a fiscal necessity.”

“The worst thing you can do to a person is make them feel insignificant.” Drug court programming has started to prevent that, he said.