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Nancy White May 14, 2012

Mental Health Court: A Successful Program!

Almost twelve years ago I was given the opportunity to participate in planning the City of Kansas City, Missouri’s mental health court. It was originally designed for the mentally ill, who had been charged with city ordinance violations in Kansas City, Missouri. The program has expanded to include low level felonies from Jackson County Drug Court, and city ordinance violations in Lee’s Summit Municipal Court, Raytown Municipal Court, Grandview Municipal Court, and Blue Springs Municipal Court, all Jackson County, Missouri cities that are suburbs to Kansas City, Mo.

I first began volunteering at the City of Kansas City, Missouri city jail as a practicum student in Counseling and Guidance. In those days the city jail was somewhat of a “drunk tank.” Mostly men involved in violations while they were intoxicated were sentenced to the jail. I remember meeting my first client with schizophrenia at the jail. He was not the norm and nobody at the jail really knew how to help him. We had health care services at the jail, but no psychiatric services.

After my two volunteer semesters at the jail I got a job working for the city department that ran the city jail and worked there for another year, and then eight years for the court. Now fast forward twelve years and I am back at the city jail. The jail population looks totally different, and now it is estimated that over 50% of the city jail’s census on any given day has a mental illness.

I am amazed that in such a short period of time the population at the jail changed so drastically. Mental Health Court appears to be a viable program for those who wish to participate. “In looking at the quarterly report from January – March, 2012 Mental Health Court, now a 10 year old program, continues to successfully divert persons with mental illness, who have been arrested for city ordinance violations (or low class felonies from Drug Court), from incarceration to a mental health treatment program.” I am proud to say that the City of Kansas City, Missouri cares enough about their citizens to give them the opportunity to participate in Mental Health Court!

Resource Development Institute. (2012, April). Jackson County Mental Health Diversion Court: Quarterly Evaluation Report (January – March 2012). Kansas City, MO: Author.

Nancy White is a counselor who has spent much of her professional life working in corrections.

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