Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Criminal court first; treatment second

Two judges in Rock Island County, Iowa are demonstrating deep compassion for helping those with severe mental illnesses. The judges, who already have heavy case loads, have started a mental health court to divert people with mental illnesses who have committed a crime from jail into treatment.

The judges are making a difference in the lives of many people with severe mental illnesses by helping them get treatment and keeping them out of jails and prisons.

Conklin, 58, and Bell, 54, are sharing the load, and both are aware they are breaking new ground. They credit their successes to the defendants themselves, along with the case managers who are the real mental health experts.

Despite the help, it isn’t easy.

“Some days you just have to tell people what time it is, and that’s not real nice,” Conklin said. “While some of these people have waited in jail, they’ve become caged animals. We have to get them back before we can get them better.”

Sadly, people with severe mental illnesses aren’t getting this type of compassionate intervention and tough-love before they commit a crime. No- to see Judges Conklin and Bell you must make it to criminal court.

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