Mental illness increases the cost of the legal process. Without treatment and supervision some mentally ill defendants cannot be safely released into the community, creating a disproportionate drain on the justice system.
Nationwide, 16 percent of jail detainees are mentally ill. But, at the Fulton County Jail, this figure is 20 to 25 percent, approximately 50 percent above the national average. Currently, one-third of all defendants housed in the Fulton County Jail receive some type of psychotropic medication and more than 75 percent test positive for illegal drugs upon arrival (or refuse to take the test).
These numbers make the Fulton County Jail the largest de facto mental health facility in Georgia with half of the jail’s 2,000-plus detainees receiving some type of mental health services.
To address this large number of detainees who cannot be released because of mental illness, the Superior Court of Fulton County began a pilot Mental Health Court in the last quarter of 2006. Using existing staff and resources, the Court has been able to supervise, on average, 100 mentally ill offenders annually. Collectively, these offenders have been arrested more than 800 times, with one third of them having a criminal history which included spending time in prison. In 2011 the Mental Health Court was renamed the Behavioral Health Treatment Court in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with the title “Mental Health”.
Fulton’s Behavioral Health Treatment Court is effective in dealing with the problem of recurring arrests of individuals diagnosed with mental illness, by utilizing community collaborations and partnerships to meet the mental health needs of the participants. The program also assists in reducing the jail population and strengthening our existing Drug Court program by providing additional resources needed by Drug Court participants who have mental illnesses.
In 2008, Fulton County’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (BHDD) agreed to provide case management and mental health treatment for 50 defendants under the supervision of Behavioral Health Treatment Court. This partnership allows for an expansion of the Behavioral Health Treatment Court therefore further reducing the costs of recurring arrest of offenders with mental illnesses.
For information on Fulton County’s Behavioral Health Treatment Court please contact: Marla J. Patterson, Mental Health Court Coordinator: 404-612-4922