Helping mentally ill defendants
By Isabel A. Suárez
My 26-year-old son has no felonies, but I’ve lost track of the number of misdemeanor cases he has on his record. Over the last 10 years, he has spent at least a total of three-and-a-half years at the county jail. I’ve lost track of the amount of money that I’ve spent on his defense. I know there’s something mentally wrong with my son. I’ve been telling lawyers this for years to no avail. Now he has a pending disorderly conduct charge and looking at another 30 days in jail. We’re not bad parents. We just don’t have the money for both lawyers and doctors. I think now I’m the one who’s going crazy. Any suggestions?
It depends on the nature of your son’s mental health issues. There are many people like your son that once they become involved in the legal system, it becomes a never-ending revolving door. If your son lives in Montgomery County, there is an alternative to jail provided that his mental health issues qualify him for a special mental health program in the municipal courts.
In 2003, the Dayton Municipal Court established a docket to address defendants with mental health issues called the Access II Mental Health Docket to address the special needs of individuals suffering from mental health issues. Unlike the normal court experience, defendants who qualify for the program have a team of dedicated mental health professionals from Dayton Behavioral, Eastway, Samaritan Behavioral, the city prosecutor, public defender and probation. Before court is called to order, representatives from these various agencies meet to discuss each and every individual who is scheduled for that day.
The program has been refined to provide training and protocol to police officers, paramedics and jail personnel, including 911 dispatchers, to identify whether the mental health issues plays a part in the accused actions. If the first responders determine that mental health is an issue, professionals from Samaritan Behavioral do an initial assessment in jail. Thereafter, they are psychologically evaluated to determine their particular diagnosis. The mental disorder must normally fall within the “serious category,” i.e. schizophrenia, schizo-effective disorder, bipolar and major depression. The individual can also fall within what is euphemistically called Access II Light. These individuals may not have serious mental health problems, but may suffer from debilitating issues such as severe anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorders.
On the legal side, defendants who are found guilty, but who qualify for this program go into a two-year intensive period of probation. This is not your run of the mill probation. A treatment plan is established to include proper medication, group and individual therapy, family input, monitoring of the individual’s compliance or lack thereof, including home visits. This protocol gives the court a more complete perspective of the individual’s treatment as opposed to punishment.
If individuals fail their plan expectations, they may spend a few days in jail to hopefully give them a reality check of what awaits them if they do not work on complying. The Access II docket is an aggressive approach to individually treat each and every member in the program. Some members have to report to court as much as once a week if necessary. If these out patient services do not work, a small number of individuals are referred to in-patient programs. It should be noted that the program includes drug and alcohol treatment as many of them self-medicate. The goal is to minimize these individuals from re-offending or being a risk to themselves or others.
If your son’s attorney is not aware of this program, share this information. Attorneys can motion the court for a mental health assessment. The beauty of this program is that it comes at no cost to the defendant and if successfully completed, their prior guilty conviction is vacated. Hope this helps. It really is a terrific program.
Legal disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and informative purposes only, and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk and are advised to seek an attorney if legal consultation is needed. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed as laws are subject to change. Neither the author, the Dayton City Paper, nor any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
Isabel Suarez is a Cuban-born American who has been practicing law since 1984. Her diverse multicultural and multilingual practice Suarez & Carlin in Old North Dayton especially serves the regions working poor. Isabel is also a board member of and volunteer for the Ohio Intervention Program. You can reach Isabel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her office located at 765 Troy St. in Dayton at (937) 258-1800.