County to get felony mental health court



Violent offenders will not be eligible for the court and its services.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County's first felony court for criminal offenders with mental health problems is expected to be operating by next spring.
Ohio's Office of Criminal Justice Services has approved Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen A. Sweeney's grant request to establish such a court here.
The amount of the grant hasn't been determined. The judge has until Dec. 5 to submit a budget in order to finalize funding.
OCJS is the state's foremost criminal justice planning agency and serves those who try to reduce and prevent crime in Ohio.
Mahoning County's felony mental health court also will be among the first in common pleas courts in the state, Judge Sweeney said Monday.
Judge Sweeney's goal is to steer low-level offenders toward programs that will help to rehabilitate them and keep them away from prison. Examples of low-level offenders include those charged with theft or breaking and entering.
The judge said she will not consider violent offenders for the mental health court, and the only domestic violence offenders who may be admitted will be those whose victims provide their written consent, she said.
Social-agency collaboration
The court will work with as many social agencies as possible to address the various needs of those offenders. Judge Sweeney will meet with each mental health court participant to discuss his or her progress. "It has to be a collaborative effort or it won't work," she said.
The program is expected to begin in February or March and serve a maximum of 15 people initially, Judge Sweeney said. No additional court employees will be hired. "We're just going to work a little harder," she said.
OCJS will provide a one-year grant to start the mental health court here. Ongoing funding will be sought from local foundations and other sources, Judge Sweeney said.
Criminal offenders with mental health issues aren't only Mahoning County's problem: "It's a problem all over the state," Judge Sweeney said.
Youngstown Municipal Court has had a mental health court since November 2003. Robert A. Douglas is the presiding judge.
Mahoning County also has a felony drug court, which was established in 1998 by Common Pleas Judge John Durkin to address addiction treatment needs of nonviolent offenders.
shaulis@vindy.com

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