YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners approved applying for $400,000 in criminal justice grants for programs in the prosecutor's office, sheriff's department and common pleas and county courts.
Suzanne Barbati, the county's special projects staff member, explained to commissioners Tuesday that the county is seeking the following grants from the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services:
U $100,000 for the prosecutor's office to continue its gun investigation unit.
U$100,000 to implement a mental health court, similar to one operating in Youngstown Municipal Court, at the common pleas court level.
U$200,000 for the sheriff's department and the county courts to use video arraignment equipment for court security purposes.
Barbati explained that county Prosecutor Paul Gains has two people in his office who investigate guns used in crimes and they track where those weapons originated. Their work is crucial to the work of authorities, including the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force, she said.
The salaries are paid by two federal grants that expire this year, Barbati said. The county is seeking the state funding to keep the two investigators on staff.
She provided statistics that showed that since May 2004 investigators have increased their number of investigations on guns from 179 to 280.
The county also would like funding to establish a mental health court on the common pleas court level. The court would offer an approach to support treatment and a "stable and crime-free lifestyle for 15 to 20 mentally ill offenders," says the county's grant application.
The court would be modeled after a pilot project implemented in Youngstown Municipal Court and will follow the model established by the county's felony and misdemeanor drug courts, the application says.
Mentally ill defendants charged with misdemeanor crimes will volunteer to participate. There will be early intervention offered and measured release into the community with continuing judicial oversight and deferred prosecution pending completion of treatment and support services.
Turning Point Counseling staff will review the court docket to identify people who have been involved with the mental health system.
Video arraignment equipment is used in the common pleas and Youngstown municipal courts. The county wants to expand the use of that equipment to enhance security at the county courts in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring.
Barbati said the application is in its early preparation stages and a meeting will be scheduled with the county court judges, their personnel and the sheriff's department to outline the grant's specifics.
Commissioner David Ludt has been a proponent of video arraignments. He says they boost safety and would be a huge cost savings because deputies would no longer have to transport criminal defendants from the jail to the courts.