Pinal County forms "mental health court" for criminals

Posted at 6:44 AM, Aug 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-09 11:20:33-04

Pinal County is the latest in our state to introduce a way to “treat” criminals through a mental health court.

"If you’re looking to make a difference in the system, it's about helping people,” said Judge Lawrence Wharton, who presides over the court. “The people that come into the system I’d like to think genuinely want to succeed."

The post-sentencing court will consider people convicted of mostly non-violent crimes. Eligibility is considered on a case-by-case basis by judges, the probation, public defenders’ and prosecutor’s office.

"If you suffer from a mental health disorder the likelihood of you being successful on probation is drastically reduced," Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer told ABC15.

"If there are things that we in the criminal justice system can do to meet people where they need to be met, give them the tools to be successful, that should be our priority," Volkmer said.

Maricopa County and several cities within, including Glendale, Phoenix, and Tempe, have already set up similar mental health courts. Offenders are required to undergo in or outpatient treatment for a set amount of time, or as determined by psychologists.

National and local studies show that people who complete a mental health court program have a significantly lower rate of committing another crime.