Real help often not behind bars

Published 11:55 am Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Far too often, our society treats symptoms rather than the cause.

That is perhaps no more prevalent than when it comes to individuals in the court and criminal justice system.

Studies have shown that more than half of inmates across the country have a mental disorder of some type. That number climbs to 64 percent when looking solely at county jails that often house people for lesser offenses.

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Rarely does the criminal justice system look at the root cause of behaviors such as alcohol abuse, domestic issues and even some violent crimes.

That is where Clark County Mental Health Court comes in.

Relatively unique in that it is not operated by the state but instead funded by a grant from The Grater Clark Foundation, the program was put together by District Judge Earl-Ray Neal who had concerns about the way those with mental health conditions were being handled in the court system, often feeling like those underlying issues were never properly addressed.

After two and half years in operation, and considering it takes 12 to 18 months to complete, it is safe to say the program has been a success.

With a fairly stringent vetting process, 21 people have been admitted into the program. Five have graduated and 10 more are currently in one of the three phases designed to create structure and re-acclimate an individual into society. Another key component is mandatory community service that helps integrate individuals and shows them ways they can make a difference.

Skeptics may argue that the numbers are too low to really have an impact on significant social issue. But how can you put a price on essentially saving someone’s life?

Make no mistake about it, that is exactly what the program is doing.

The next step is to figure out how the mental health court can grow in a sustainable way to help more people overcome challenges that much of society continues to overlook.