Mental health court established for offenders on probation

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(Source: AP Images) (Source: AP Images)
FLORENCE, AZ (AP) -

A specialized court has been established in Pinal County to give defendants with mental problems an alternative path and keep them out of the criminal justice system.

Presiding Judge Stephen McCarville signed an administrative order last month calling for the establishment of Mental Health Treatment Court. It's a therapeutic, post-sentence court for defendants placed on supervised probation.

People screened with a mental illness are referred to the court by the Pinal County Attorney's Office or the county's probation department. Then the court's staff reviews the defendant's case to determine whether the person's situation is appropriate for the program, the Casa Grande Dispatch reported.

The offender undergoes outpatient treatment at a mental health facility while checking in with the court on a weekly basis.

If defendants don't follow the terms of the treatment, then they're subject to having their probation revoked.

The goal is to keep people with mental disabilities out of the criminal justice system, Pinal County Superior Court Administrator Todd Zweig said. The number of probationers with mental health conditions has been increasing in the county, he added, prompting the need for this type of service.

The court plans to reallocate existing resources so as not to generate additional costs for running the mental health court.

Establishing a mental health court increases public safety, reduces recidivism rates and improves access to mental health programs, according to a report released by the Arizona Supreme Court.

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