Shelby County government set to double capacity of mental health court

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 11:58 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In 2016, Shelby County introduced its first mental health court.

Violent crime has increased 38 percent since then.

Plans to increase capacity at the county’s mental health court hope to lower crime in the city. This community has a serious crime problem, more specifically, this community has a recidivism problem.

The same people entering in and out of the criminal justice system can in some part be directly related to mental health.

“A lot of the defendants suffer from mental illness,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. “In fact, the rate of mental illness for criminal defendants is significantly higher than the general population.”

About two-thirds of inmates in local jails have or have had a mental health problem.

Once a week, mental health court convenes at 201 Poplar in General Session Court 9 with Judge Gerald Skahan.

It’s a place where non-violent offenders with documented severe mental health issues are given support from the judge instead of incarceration.

Harris says participants in mental health court have a lower rate of recidivism.

“We know there is a substantial need. There are numerous cases in the pipeline of folks who are suffering from mental illness that could benefit from that expertise you get in mental health court,” said Harris.

Harris says there’s a plan in place to double the capacity of the county’s mental health court.

There are plans to increase mental court days from one to two days a week, add more case managers, and build additional office space at 201 Poplar for behavioral health specialists.

Harris says the project being paid for through federal dollars is in conjunction with the court, public defender, and district attorney’s offices.

The Shelby County Commission approved funding for the additional positions just this week.

“It’s not going to solve the crime problem by itself, but it is a piece of the puzzle. And we’re going to continue to work at this until we bring crime down into our community and make sure those with mental illness and substance abuse receive the services that they need,” said Harris.

Mental health court provides healthcare, counseling, housing, and employment assistance.

The expansion will be paid for through the American Rescue Plan funds.

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