Just two years ago, the Legislature created a program to help non-violent offenders with drug and mental health issues enter treatment and receive probation rather than lengthy prison terms.  The program is called the Mental Health Sentencing Alternative (MHSA).  The basic way it works is that instead of prison, which leaves untreated any outstanding mental health issues, the judge can order a defendant into treatment and aftercare, and instead of sending the defendant to prison, can impose a term of probation, usually between 12 and 36 months in length.

This MHSA program has not been used frequently.  Prosecutors are often opposed to it, and it is up to the Defense team to put together a plan that will treat the client and satisfy the judge.  This is a very difficult process, especially when the client languishes in jail, which is what happened in our case.

The client came to us with a long list of criminal charges, ranging from burglaries to forgery, theft and identity theft.  He was homeless, living on the streets.  He suffered from serious mental health issues including PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, and various impulse control issues.  All of these had remained untreated for decades, and had lead to the client developing a serious drug and alcohol problem as well.

Our firm started putting together a team of social workers, doctors and counselors.  Working together, we came up with a plan that would put the client into an inpatient treatment program followed by clean and sober housing and connecting him with resources that would allow him to re-enter society, find a job and housing, and stop committing any further crimes.

But there was still the issue of the judge, who had a decision to make.  The judge could either send our client to prison for 5 years and kick the proverbial can down the road, or the judge could take a chance on our client, accept and follow the treatment plan put together by the Defense team, and release the client into treatment.

We’re very happy to report that the judge made the right call and released our client from jail and directly into treatment.  The client will be on probation for the next couple of years, which will ensure that he follows through with the plan for his recovery.  The prosecutor had opposed this option every step of the way, but the judge found the interests of society in recovery to outweigh the simplistic approach of “lock him up and throw away the key.”

We commend the Legislature for its creation of the MHSA program.  More and more, we as a society are learning about the drastic impact that mental health issues have on behavior.  When people are homeless and desperate on top of the MH issues, it’s a recipe for disaster.  We should support solutions that reduce crime by treating the underlying causes of crime, rather than warehouse people away from society for years at a time.  The latter approach solves no issues, and only leads desperate, untreated people to continue committing crimes.  And we need to have brave judges that are willing to try new approaches to ensure that people don’t keep coming back to court and prison over and over again.

For more information, check out this video and support the MHSA program by clicking here.



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