HUDSON — The Columbia County Courthouse has been approved to serve as a mental health court for the first time.
Adult Drug Treatment courts, Veterans Treatment Court and Domestic Violence and integrated domestic violence courts in the 3rd Judicial District were designated “problem-solving courts” in Columbia County.
Acting Chief Administrative Judge Tamiko Amaker of the Unified Court System handed down the order, a copy of which was shared by Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson. The order goes into effect immediately.
Columbia and Greene counties are included in the 3rd Judicial District.
The process to get the approval for Mental Health Court status is a long process, Hudson City Judge Cheryl Roberts said.
“Mental health courts in New York have to be approved by the Office of Court Administration,” she said. “We had to submit documentation on how mental health court would work, the paperwork we would use, and most importantly show that we have a commitment from the different parties in the process to engage productively in a mental health court.”
Roberts said she is proud of the county team that helped support the endeavour.
“It required cooperation from the District Attorney’s office and the Public defender’s office, and most importantly all the service providers, such as the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Mental Health, also Twin County Recovery Services and Greener Pathways and so many others,” Roberts said.
Mental health courts are a form of a collaborative court that provides specific services and treatment to defendants dealing with mental illness. They provide an alternative to the traditional court system by emphasizing a problem-solving model and connecting defendants to a variety of rehabilitative services and support networks.
Each mental health court has different participant requirements and available services. The goal is to support inmates’ successful return to society, reduce recidivism, increase public safety and improve the quality of life in the community. Mental health courts were implemented as a direct response to address inmates exhibiting underlying mental illness.
Mental health courts rely on analysis, individualized treatment plans and ongoing judicial monitoring to address both the mental health needs of offenders and public safety issues.
“When I first appointed Cheryl, our goal was to make getting resources to people regarding mental health services easier and more streamlined, and this is a great addition to that work,” Johnson said.
In 2022, 64% of inmates, 54% of state prisoners and 45% of federal prisoners came forward with mental health concerns, according to an American Psychological Association report.
Dwayne Brown served a four-year term in the Coxsackie Correctional Facility in Greene County.
“Hell would be an upgrade to my incarnation at Coxsackie,” Brown said. “I went in for a minor drug offense and marijuana possession, and I also had a gun charge. I was locked up with so many crazy people. I remember the first week I saw someone pee in a cup and throw it at a CO. He went to the hole for a long time. Being in Isolation for so long will have your mind playing tricks on you. As I got to know the inmate who threw the pee better, I noticed he had a lot of mental health issues. People like that don’t need to be incarcerated. They need help.”
More than a quarter of the state’s inmates receive mental health services and one-fifth of those have serious mental illnesses, New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision spokesman Tom Mailey said.
“Among the 31,310 individuals under DOCCS’ custody on Jan. 1, 2023, 8,795, or 28%, were on the Office of Mental Health caseload and receiving mental health services,” Mailey said. “Among those 8,795 individuals, 1,807, or 21%, had a designation of a serious mental illness.”
State law requires the Office of Mental Health to provide special programs along a continuum of care for incarcerated individuals with mental illness in DOCCS facilities. Special programs and services are also available to incarcerated individuals with sensory disabilities and intellectual or developmental disabilities.
There are more than 1,400 designated beds for incarcerated individuals with serious mental illness and an array of rehabilitative and treatment services for other incarcerated individuals on the mental health caseload.
“We want to try and give the people in the mental health court an alternative to incarceration,” Roberts said. “The goal is to have them engage in treatment or in a program where they can engage with us and work with the program providers and stay out of trouble. Then they will avoid jail…It’s an important goal to get people to stop going to jail and cycling through the criminal justice system and get on with their lives while at the same time increasing public safety.”