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Originally published Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 11:16 AM

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Mental health court tries to help break the cycle

A new mental health court has opened in Snohomish County to help find solutions for people living with mental illness who are caught in the criminal justice system.

The Associated Press

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EVERETT, Wash. —

A new mental health court has opened in Snohomish County to help find solutions for people living with mental illness who are caught in the criminal justice system.

The court is designed to solve issues that can't be easily addressed in a traditional court, The Daily Herald reported ( http://is.gd/ccRB5K).

So far, two people have opted into the program. A third person is in the early stages. The program could eventually manage 20 cases.

The pilot project is funded from a portion of a sales tax specifically collected to pay for services for those in the community living with a mental illness and those with substance abuse problems.

These cases would have been in the court system anyway, but are now being diverted to the mental health court in hopes of providing long-term solutions.

Participants likely will be someone "who has gone through the system over and over again," said Everett District Court Judge Tam Bui, who presides over the new court.

The goal is to help people get stable and healthy so they can get out of the cycle, proponents say.

"We're working out what we all need to do to make this a successful program," Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Hal Hupp said.

Hupp will decide whether defendants are legally eligible for the program, by looking at the current charge, as well as any past criminal history. The court generally isn't going to accept anyone charged with a felony and will avoid anyone with a past history of violence.

"We don't want the program to fail because we brought in the wrong person," Hupp said.

Participants who opt into the program must meet certain requirements, such as being engaged in treatment, meeting with court's mental health liaison and following the recommendations of health care providers. The program also requires regular court visits.

The judge, lawyers and a mental health liaison gather before the court hearings to talk about each participant's progress and if there are any additional issues that need to be addressed.

"These cases are expected to be dynamic because we're dealing with people's mental well-being," Bui said.

Participants get much more supervision than if their cases were left on the typical trial track, said Jennifer Bartlett, an attorney with the Snohomish County Public Defender Association.

"There will be more intervention earlier. There's just a lot more supervision and monitoring," she said.

The court will maintain jurisdiction over the cases for two years. If participants fail to meet the requirements, they face being convicted of the charge. If they successfully complete the program, the charge can be dismissed.

"Not only is it humane, but it's the most effective way to deal with this set of the population," Bui said.

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Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com

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