County Mental Health Court to start Aug. 10

Published 3:56 pm Thursday, August 5, 2010

Shelby County’s Mental Health Court, one of the first of its kind in the state, will take its first case Aug. 10, Shelby County Probate Judge Jim Fuhrmeister announced at the Aug. 5 South Shelby Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Fuhrmeister will work together with Circuit Judge Hub Harrington and case manager Ira Blanchard on the Mental Health Court.

Fuhrmeister said he believes many people in prison don’t need to be there. Rather, they should be getting help for their mental illnesses.

“The real driving force that puts (some people) in the criminal system is their mental illness,” he said. “Judge Harrington will keep them under his supervision and provide structure for their lives, because that’s really what they need.”

Harrington, who spoke after Fuhrmeister, said it was a “miracle” the Mental Health Court came together, and gave credit to Fuhrmeister’s Leadership Shelby County group.

While Harrington had worked on the idea of a mental health court for years, the idea didn’t really gain traction until Fuhrmeister participated in Leadership Shelby County. His small group thought the mental health court idea would be an excellent project to take on.

Harrington warned the crowd, however, that the Mental Health Court can’t stand on its own. Funding has been secured for the court’s first year, but more funding will be needed to keep the court going.

“We’ll probably need your help,” he said.

Blanchard said people with mental illness, most of the time, are regular people who need acceptance and understanding.

“As long as they’re taking their medication, the majority of them are very, very normal,” he said. “The hard part is when they decide not to take it.”

The Mental Health Court will function by taking client recommendations from Shelby County Jail officials, judges and others in the legal system. Those recommendations will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the district attorney, the judge and a case manager to decide which prisoners to take on as clients.

Only offenders who are charged with violations, misdemeanors or Class B or C felony charges will be considered. Those who have committed violent crimes won’t be eligible.

Clients will be required to go through drug screening to make sure they’re taking the drugs they should be taking without self-medicating with other drugs. Clients will also be required to go through whatever counseling or therapy is appropriate for their mental health issue, while working with a case manager.