Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mental Health Court: Blog #1


I will be sharing the story of the Mental Health Court, a pilot project in Scott County, which is under the supervision of the Department of Corrections, State of Iowa.

Inmates who are jailed with a mental health issue are given the opportunity to participate in a two year program which seeks to help clients stabilize to break a recidivism cycle or regain management of their medications. At the conclusion of the program their sentence may be reduced or dismissed.

What makes this possible?  The county attorney instead of being prosecutor becomes their advocate. And the Judge becomes their legal counsel and well as advisor. They have other folks on the team, psychologist, probation officers, and a care coordinator. The care coordinator has a strategic role in overseeing their various therapy approaches and locations, long term care, residential centers, and more self are. There may be others I am not aware of. These are the folks I can identify at present.

I have been attending the weekly Friday afternoon sessions which start at 2:30 and go to around 4:30, on Friday afternoon, sometimes finishing earlier. One thing that is apparent from my observing, lives are being changed. They work with 13 to 19 clients on an afternoon. Each is called to the bench and the judge begins asking about their week. He has a report in front of him so he gets specific during the course of the conversation.

I am now inviting others to become observers and see what they can see. Last Friday a person from Senator Joni Ernst office came. I think he was impressed by what he saw. He gave me names of legislative people who he thought needed to observe as well.

This Friday I have a clergy friend who will be coming. He is especially interested since he has experienced mental illness in his family.

This is a short introduction. I will be adding to this blog and writing others as well about the project.

Marlin Whitmer
Retired Hospital Chaplain

I learned later from my clergy friend who is retiring and who observed the court with me, he has considerable experience with mental health issues from family experiences. Plus he became more
knowledgable by attending a weekly seminar at the Harvard Medical School for 15 summers. It was good to have him join me in an "increasing our awareness" of the Mental Health Court.

As I continue to attend the court sessions some clients were doing very well, even getting achievement awards, and others have a more difficult week. All have to learn to think differently in how they make decisions and live their lives. They have to learn to ask for help when they need it. They have to review their decision making process. Humor is becoming part of the process. A different Judge presides from time to time but the purpose and outcomes remain the same.

Again I was told they still do not have a psychiatric bed for my son. This has been going on week after week for several months. I am learning there is a shortage of long term psychiatric beds. Tonight I went to the internet to see what the psychiatric bed situation is in Iowa. We are at the bottom of the states with 24 per 100,000 when 40 to 60 per 100,000 is recommended. The Des Moines Register had an editorial about our sorry state.

I am thinking about a way to mobilize interest to impact the legislature. I will be looking for members of families that have a mental health issue. The statics are 1 in 5, or 20 percent of the population with mental health issues at some point in their life. I think if you add addictions which are usually a part of a mental health issue you would have a higher number.

Another facet in the story of the Mental Health Court. I am thankful the Iowa Supreme Court allowed some requirements that were not in place to not deter the Scott County Mental Court from beginning. I checked this out one Sunday morning at Coffee Hour after the service with Tom Waterman, an Iowa Supreme Court Judge, who was present. He affirmed the Iowa Supreme Court approved the Scott County Mental Health Court to become operational. My thanks to him. My son would be in prison without this program.

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