Cullman County launches new mental health court for non-violent offenders

CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) – Cullman County is expanding it’s mental health services by adding a mental health court for non-violent offenders to find access to medication and resources.

Mental health court is a new program in Cullman County, but they’ve based it off of courts in Birmingham and Huntsville, where officials said they’ve been seeing positive results. The goal is to help people get treatment instead of sending them to jail.

“We have seen some really positive results to those counties we went in and observed,” WellStone Behavioral Health CEO Chris Van Dyke said. “It allows people who are in the criminal court system, with non-violent charges, to apply to this mental health court. It will allow them to avoid their sentence if they come to treatment for the period of time that the judge orders, which is probably typically gonna be about one year.”

It’s a year in mental health treatment instead of a year in jail or back on the streets.

“If we can get people into treatment who really need it, rather than being in and out of jail and in the community untreated, then people are going to be safer,” Van Dyke said. “It helps improve the safety of the community.”

It’s for crimes like theft, trespassing and public intoxication, but participants still have to plead guilty.

“If they participate in the program, they don’t have to go serve that sentence in jail,” Van Dyke said.

He said it can help a variety of mental illnesses, like depression, bi-polar and schizophrenia.

“We have people who might not be motivated to come to treatment before they have some legal trouble, but once they have legal trouble, they might realize ‘hey, yes I do have a mental illness that I do need to get some treatment for’,” Van Dyke said.

The court is launched and organizers have sent out applications, you can apply through your lawyer or individual. Once there are enough applications, officials said they will hold court.

“Turn those applications back in to the District Attorney’s office,” Van Dyke said. “Then, those applications are screened by the DA to see if they can be apart of the program. Then, we will start having mental health court dockets.”


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