Mental Health Court
Mental health therapeutic courts were developed to address the overrepresentation of mentally ill individuals in the criminal justice system. They divert select defendants into judicially supervised community-based treatment resources. Modeled after drug courts, mental health courts aim to promote public safety by reducing the criminalization of persons with mental illness.
In standard criminal case processing, defendants interact with multiple defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges. This approach creates barriers that prevent the court from identifying and addressing the unique needs of defendants with mental illness. They often spend unnecessary time in jail and, lacking access to mental health treatment services upon release, become repeat offenders. MHC aims to interrupt this cycle by diverting these defendants to community-based treatment and support resources.
Snohomish County Mental Health Court (MHC) began as a pilot program on October 4, 2012 and became a permanent fixture within Snohomish County District Court after two years.
The Mental Health Therapeutic Court (MHC) represents an effort to increase coordination between the criminal justice system and the mental health treatment system in a cooperative and non-adversarial setting. The program aims to achieve the following outcomes for defendants with mental illness:
- faster and meaningful case processing time
- improved access to public mental health treatment services
- improved well-being
- dismissal of criminal charges upon completion
- reduced recidivism
In addition to improved outcomes for individual defendants, MHC positively impacts the local community through improved public safety.
Final eligibility is determined during the application and screening process. In general, defendants must:
- be 18 years of age or older
- have a severe and persistent mental health condition; verification from a mental health professional is required as part of the application process. Eligible diagnoses include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Schizoaffective Disorder
- Psychotic conditions not otherwise specified
- Bipolar disorder
- Severe depressive disorders
- have eligible pending charges in Snohomish County District Court; INELIGIBLE crimes include:
- Physical control
- Domestic Violence crimes where the victim objects to MHC
- Communicating with a minor for immoral purposes
- Assault IV with sexual motivation
- be willing to engage in all mental health treatment requirements AND substance use disorder treatment (if applicable)
- score within eligible range on risk/need assessment tool conducted by MHC staff as a part of the application process
- be legally competent; any competency-related issues should be resolved before referring an individual to MHC
- reside in Snohomish County OR be willing to obtain housing in the county if homeless
- be willing to be honest, show up and work hard toward positive change
HOW IT WORKS
The Mental Health Therapeutic Court follows a unique model. The steps below are a general overview of a defendant’s journey through the program.
- A defendant is referred to Snohomish County Mental Health Court (MHC). Anyone may refer a potential applicant including attorneys, law enforcement, family members, medical and treatment professionals, or jail psychiatric staff.
- The defendant (usually through their attorney) submits an MHC Referral Application. This must be done within 60 days of arraignment on the eligible charge.
- The defendant’s charge is reviewed for legal eligibility by the MHC Deputy Prosecutor. If approved, the defendant begins working on the MHC Requirements Checklist.
- The MHC requirements checklist includes, but is not limited to:
- completing a mental health assessment
- completing a substance use disorder assessment
- attending & observing Mental Health Court every week during the application process
- Once all the necessary information is collected, referrals are evaluated and staffed by the MHC Team. This team is comprised of the Judge, Defense Counsel, Prosecuting Attorney, Court Coordinator and Court Specialty Officer. The team reserves the right to refuse cases into its jurisdiction if a person does not meet eligibility criteria.
- Once determined eligible, a defendant may choose to enter the MHC program. Participation in the program is voluntary and takes 12-24 months to complete. Upon entry, defendants must waive their rights to a trial on the merits of the case and enter into an agreement to complete treatment and follow all conditions of the court. The MHC Team provides guidance and support as the participant works toward program and treatment goals.
- MHC hearings occur every Tuesday at 10:30 AM at the Snohomish County District Court – Everett Division. Generally, defendants must attend every week for the full hearing. As they progress through the program and maintain compliance with treatment and court expectations, the frequency of their hearings decreases. The Court Specialty Officer is present at all hearings and is responsible for linking the participant with appropriate services and to develop effective case plans and goals with the participant and treatment agency.
- Participants progress through a series of stages by achieving specific goals in each stage to reach graduation, maintaining compliance with court and treatment expectations, and meeting regularly with MHC staff.
- The MHC Team meets before each court date to share information and make collaborative decisions regarding current cases and new referrals.
- Participants who successfully complete the program get their criminal charge(s) dismissed.
IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS OR WOULD LIKE TO MAKE A REFERRAL TO THE SNOHOMISH COUNTY MENTAL HEALTH COURT PROGRAM, YOU CAN EMAIL THE MHC COORDINATOR AT SHAMORA.BEARWOOD@SNOCO.ORG OR CONTACT THE DEFENSE ATTORNEY ASSIGNED TO THE CASE.