Mental Health Court overview
The King County District Court Mental Health Court celebrated 10 years of success on February 26, 2009. (See March 2, 2009 Seattle PI.)On February 17, 1999, King County District Court instituted a specialized Mental Health Court. This project was created in order to better serve the community by addressing public safety, reducing criminalization of persons with mental illness, and promoting systems integration. The planning involved key players from across the county using a collaborative approach to create an effective working pilot program. The foundation of the court has remained the same since it began although some of the daily practices and procedures have shifted to meet the needs of the environment over time. The program's pilot status changed to that of a permanent program after two years and the court continues to operate with the support of the involved systems, clients, families, and community. Mental Health Court has been presided over by the Judge James Cayce, Judge Mark Chow, Judge Arthur Chapman, Judge Anne Harper and Judge Michael Finkle.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not the same as King County Superior Court’s Mental Illness/Involuntary Commitment Court at Harborview. That Court handles Civil Commitments. For more information, please click here.
In the regular system, defendants often interact with a number of different defenders, prosecutors, and judges all on the same case, which is an approach that often creates barriers that prevent the court from identifying and addressing the unique needs of the mentally ill offender. Mentally ill offenders often spend unnecessary time in jail and, lacking access to mental health treatment services on release, often become repeat offenders and cycle through the justice system again.
The Mental Health Court represents an effort to increase effective cooperation between two systems that have traditionally not worked closely together - the mental health treatment system and the criminal justice system. The project hopes to achieve the following outcomes for the mentally ill misdemeanant population: faster case processing time, improved access to public mental health treatment services, improved well-being, and reduced recidivism. An important outcome to be achieved from this program for the larger community is improved public safety.
How it Works:
King County's Mental Health Court offers misdemeanor defendants with mental illnesses a single point of contact with the court system. In some instances, the defendant’s case may have begun as a felony charge and was negotiated to a misdemeanor plea with supervision and treatment in the MHC. The defendant will work with their dedicated team including judge, prosecutor, defender, treatment court liaison, and probation officers.
- Defendants may be referred to the Mental Health Court from a variety of different sources. In-custody defendants are often referred by jail psychiatric staff who have screened for mental health issues. Defendants may also be referred for consideration by police, attorneys, family members, or probation officers. A defendant may be referred by another District Court at any point during regular legal proceedings if the judge feels the defendant could be better served by the Mental Health Court. In addition, Mental Health Court handles all cases in which competency is an issue for the District Courts.
- The Mental Health Court reserves the right not to accept cases into its jurisdiction if a person does not meet eligibility criteria. Likewise, participation in the program is voluntary, as defendants will be asked to waive their rights to a trial on the merits of the case and enter into a diversion or plea agreement with a community-based treatment emphasis. The exception, however, is that cases in which competency issues have been raised are always eligible for transfer to Mental Health Court. If a person is treated and restored following a competency proceeding they then have the right to opt-out of the court.
- The Court holds daily (Monday - Friday) first appearance hearings for defendants newly booked into jail. The Court hears status and review hearings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (in addition to those days' first appearance hearings).
- A court liaison to the treatment community is present at all hearings and is responsible for linking the defendant with appropriate services developing an initial treatment plan with the treating agency.
- Defendants participate in court ordered treatment plans and successful participation may result in dismissed charges, early case closure or reduced sentencing.
- Defendants are placed on probation and the case is assigned to a Mental Health Court Mental Health Specialist Probation Officer. These officers have mental health backgrounds and carry substantially reduced caseloads in order to be able to provide a more intensive level of supervision and expertise to this traditionally high-needs population.
Resources for this project come from two primary sources: leveraged existing funds and staff, and additional County funds. The Proscecuting Attorney's Office, the Office of Public Defense, and the District Court have all absorbed portions of staffing costs of this program by reassigning existing staff to cover program responsibilities. Additional new funds from the County General Fund, the County Criminal Justice Fund, and the County Mental Health Fund have been allocated to this project.
For questions or requests for information about the program, please contact Mental_Health_Court (firstname.lastname@example.org), or by contacting the Office of the Presiding Judge, W-1034, King County Courthouse, Seattle, WA 98104, 206-205-2820. For communication with defense team members, please contact Mental Health Court Defense Team (email@example.com).
Mental Health Court Location Map (external link)
West Division, Seattle Courthouse
516 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104