Editorial: Mental Health Court is a positive step

Plans for a Mental Health Court in Bartholomew County are yet another indication that our community is heading in the right direction in addressing deep needs on an individual basis.

As Columbus and Bartholomew County have launched the Mental Health Matters initiative, the prospective Mental Health Court can be an important tool in meeting people at their needs.

The Republic has reported in detail that a disproportionate percentage of people in the criminal justice system have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. According to Mental Health Matters, 34% of people in the Bartholomew County Jail last year were seen for mental health reasons.

Additionally, the number of immediate detentions at the jail who were transported to Columbus Regional Health in 2022 for showing signs of suicide or immediate threat to themselves or others was 424, compared to 310 in 2021.

Jail may be the worst place for someone in mental health crisis. This is precisely where a Mental Health Court can make a profound difference in the lives of individuals and in the life of our community.

The Republic’s Mark Webber reported this week that this problem-solving court is moving toward reality. It would be overseen by Bartholomew Superior 1 Judge James Worton, and it would require dedicated involvement from service providers and others who can help people get the help and services they need.

“Mental Health Court has the support of Bartholomew County Chief Deputy Sheriff Maj. John Martoccia, who served six-and-a-half years as jail commander,” Webber wrote.

“Once the community starts to look at the individual reasons for why a person is in jail and address them, it becomes a ‘win-win’ for the entire community, Martoccia said.

“’You can’t just address them as a group,’ the chief deputy said. ‘If you look at what each individual needs to stay out of jail, I don’t see how you can lose at that.’”

Like local drug court, veterans court and family recovery court programs, a mental health court can help people deal with underlying problems that led to an offense. Participation in the program will be voluntary, importantly signifying that asking for help is the first step in treatment.

Of course, like other problem-solving courts, those who qualify will be nonviolent offenders, and the county prosecutor will have veto power over any particular offender’s acceptance into the program. That’s a wise safeguard.

As Webber described, the mental health court program will be intensive and individualized. It will require the resources of our care providing community and the commitment of participants to adhering to a tailored program.

Without a doubt, this problem-solving court promises benefits for individuals and for the community. Instituting a Bartholomew County Mental Health Court will mark a significant milestone in how we treat those who can benefit more from mental health care than from incarceration.

We applaud Judge Worton, those in the criminal justice system and those who provide mental health care and crisis intervention services. They are tasking themselves with putting in the time and effort to make individuals and our community better, in the truest meaning of the word.