Four community members graduated Wednesday from a program designed to help them overcome the complications that often come with serious mental illness.
Spokane County District Court Judge Debra Hayes presided over the ceremony honoring their completion of the 18-month program as part of mental health court, which is a joint effort with Spokane Municipal Court to provide the structure needed to allow the participants to erase misdemeanor charges.
“We are making a difference,” said Sandy Manfred, who is the mental court manager. “There is no lack of severely mentally ill people having these low-level crimes.”
The four who graduated were part of the 100 participants in the pre-conviction docket. Another 350 are part of the court’s post-conviction program that started in 2007 as part of a mental health sales tax approved by voters, Manfred said.
“We looked at their legal involvement two years prior to mental health court and two years after it, and their legal involvement had dropped by 52 percent,” she said.
That number is key because the Spokane County Jail often fills with mentally ill inmates whose criminal behavior is linked to their failure to continue to seek counseling or take their necessary medications, both of which are requirements of the program.
Once they’re in jail, Spokane County has to pick up the bill for their psychotropic drugs.
In addition, the inmates often lose public assistance, such as Medicaid, once they are incarcerated for a length of time.
“We have a pretty challenging group we deal with,” Manfred said. “But when we can celebrate, we celebrate.”