Focus on Mental Health Courts

October 26, 2004

The Fund For Modern Courts sponsored a Fall Forum in October, entitled: “Making the Case for Compassion: Justice in Mental Health Courts.” This program explored the unique challenges encountered by people with mental illness when they interact with the criminal justice system, as well as those faced by the system when confronted with the mentally ill offender. The discussion also highlighted the emergence of mental health courts as a way to address some of these issues.

Robert Corliss, MA, Associate Director of the Criminal Justice program at NAMI-NYS, shared his experience as an advocate directly involved with mentally ill offenders and their families, and identified some of the typical problems faced by these offenders as they attempt to navigate the criminal justice system after an arrest. He presented some startling statistics about the number of mentally ill offenders who are arrested and incarcerated in New York each year, and emphasized the need for more mental health courts, where the problem-solving approach offers more effective resolutions for both defendants, and ultimately, society.

Other panelists included Honorable Matthew D’Emic, Presiding Justice of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court, and Honorable Patricia D. Marks, Supervising Judge of Criminal Courts, Seventh Judicial District, and Presiding Justice of the Monroe County Mental Health Court. Both jurists spoke about the creation and operation of their mental health courts, explaining how these courts link defendants with persistent mental illness to long-term treatment as an alternative to incarceration. They also indicated the importance of linking these defendants with other necessary service providers to deal with issues of homelessness, substance abuse, joblessness, and other problems which often impede their success in treatment.

The forum was co-sponsored by the New York State Bar Association, and was moderated by Nancy M. Maurer, Esq., Clinical Professor of Law, Albany Law School, and former Co-Chair of the NYSBA Committee on Issues Affecting People with Disabilities.

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