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Mental Health Court Celebrates Five Years Of Changing Lives

Ryan Loyd | Texas Public Radio
Bexar County Courthouse

On Tuesday Bexar County Commissioners celebrated the 5-year anniversary of the Mental Health Court.

In 2008, the program began diverting non-violent, mentally ill offenders from jail, and instead entered them into a structured treatment program and case management to stop the cycle of arrest-release-arrest that many offenders get caught in.

Judge Michael Mery, who founded the court, said people who are  now recovering from drug abuse or mental illness often tell him how the court changed their lives:

"One of the most beautiful things I observed was the reunification of families. When people are off their meds, frequently they’re stronger than they think and they’re out of control. They are a real danger, and families can’t handle it. And even though they love them - for their own safety - families will cut them off. They won’t let them in the house," Mery said.

Mery has turned over the gavel to Judge Scott Roberts, who cited a success story in the case of a man diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"Over time, through coming to court regularly, through being monitored by a special probation officer, he got stabilized on his meds. He started coming to court in a tie and a jacket. He worked off all of his community service and worked off all his fines and fees. He was a tremendous success story and his life was really turned around by the program," Roberts said.

The goal of the court has been to decrease the criminalization of mentally ill individuals.

Roberts said the court has saved the county $1.7 million just in the number of jail days. It also has reduced recidivism and losses through property crimes.