Huntsville Mental Health Court changing lives, saving money

Judge Cleveland told WAAY 31 that state mental health budget cuts lead to an overflow of people who are in jail and need mental health treatment.

Posted: Mar 6, 2019 6:47 PM
Updated: Mar 6, 2019 6:54 PM

Mikki Miller has epilepsy and says recurring seizures made it difficult for her to keep a job. This led to depression and anxiety, and she began to self-medicate with illegal drugs.

"I had gotten arrested for stealing some food, and I got off with probation and a fine, but the deadline is approaching, and I don't have the money to pay the fine," said Miller

Miller's life was spiraling out of control. However, instead of sending her to jail for not paying her fine, the judge referred Miller to Judge Sybil Cleveland's Mental Health Court.

"I came on the bench in 1999. It was apparent then that there were a growing number of people who were coming into the criminal justice system with mental health conditions. Serious mental health conditions," said Cleveland.

Cleveland's court works in collaboration with mental health and substance treatment providers to help people who get caught up in the criminal system, when the root of the problem can be traced to their lack of access to mental health treatment.

"These people really didn't have an option of state and in-patient facilities. So, typically what we see are people who traditionally may have been committed into mental institutions. Some have mental health conditions, but the resources just aren't there," said Judge Cleveland.

Judge Cleveland told WAAY 31 that state mental health budget cuts lead to an overflow of people who are in jail and need mental health treatment.

An organization called The Sentencing Project ranked states based on the number of people in prison per 100,000 residents, comparing state-by-state rates of incarceration with the access to mental health care. The ranking shows a strong correlation between rates of adults who are in the criminal justice system and lack of access to mental health care.

The states with less access to mental health care have more adults who are in prison. Six out of 10 of the states with the least access to mental health care also have the highest rates of incarceration.

These states include:

* Alabama
* Arkansas
* Mississippi
* Texas
* Georgia
* Florida

Miller completed Cleveland's program through the Mental Health Court. After therapy appointments as part of the program, getting on the proper medication to treat her epilepsy and passing drug testing, Miller graduated from the Mental Health Court program. She says her life is now on a good track.

"I'm staying busy, which is a good thing. I'm pretty much either at work or at church. That's okay with me. It's good for me. I'm doing really well. I'm happy. I'm healthy. I'm just grateful to Judge Cleveland for where I am today," said Miller.

Upon Miller's successful completion of the mental court program, her case was dismissed.

Cleveland said the Mental Health Court Program is also designed to save taxpayer money by diverting inmates with serious mental health conditions from jail into community-based mental health treatment programs and reducing the overall inmate population.

Currently, housing inmates in the Madison County Jail costs taxpayers $45 to $50 per day.

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