Cobb Superior Court administrator Tom Charron said the county’s new mental health court is up and running with its first six participants.
The goal of a mental health court is to keep non-violent offenders who have committed a felony, and who have a mental illness like bipolar disorder, out of jail and in a treatment program, Charron said.
The attorney for the defendant must request that his or her client be considered for the program. Participants are then interviewed by court staff, the Sheriff’s Office, the prosecutor and Cobb Superior Court Judge Mary Staley, who oversees the program, to determine if they are eligible. Felons who have committed violent acts, such as armed robbery, are not considered.
In exchange for being released from jail, the participant agrees to whatever treatment program is ordered, whether that means counseling or psychopharmacology.
Charron said it’s a two-year program and participants must be Cobb County residents.
The program kicked off in April when the Cobb Board of Commissioners agreed to accept a state grant to fund it in a vote of 3-2 with commissioners Helen Goreham and Bob Ott opposed. The $53,615 state grant the board accepted is for the remainder of the state’s fiscal year, which ends this month.
Ott and Goreham said they voted against the court not because they believe the concept doesn’t work, but because the financial details for how the court is funded were too vague.
On Tuesday, Charron asked the board to approve a second state grant to fund the year from July 1 to June 30, 2014, for $27,320.
The board approved the grant in a vote of 3-1 with Goreham opposed and Ott absent. Goreham again expressed concern that the amount was not sufficient to fund the court and worried that it would end up eating into the county’s general fund budget.
“I’m concerned about the sustainability of the court primarily in the area of the financial support to this court, and it was very disconcerting this morning to see the amount of the grant that was issued to this court,” Goreham said.
Goreham said the court could have asked for a grant of up to $120,000.
“It’s very disconcerting to me if indeed we’re looking at outside funding sources for this court, my concern is I don’t want to see a financial burden placed on Cobb County’s general fund,” Goreham said. “I’m not seeing outside funding at this point.”
But Charron said the full $120,000 grant isn’t needed. That amount was originally budgeted in the event the state came out with guidelines on how each county was to run its mental health court, he said.
As it turns out, Charron said, the state is “leaving it up to the individual mental health treatment courts to decide on a case-by-case basis what level of service you’re going to give to this particular patient.”
The Cobb County Community Services Board is the agency that cares for the mental health of felons in the jail and provides the services needed from counseling to drug treatment, Charron said.
That agency has access to funds to help the new court.
“Once we are up and running the CSB, once they are a partner with us in the mental health court, they have funding streams that they can apply for directly from state as well as the federal government for treatment money that doesn’t even have to involve the county commission,” Charron said.
“So the funding stream is actually increased. So really I feel very comfortable with the funds we have here.”
Charron expects the court will cap its participants at 25 for the first year.
“Right now for the treatment side and the court side it’s going very well,” he said.