A letter from Judge Cassata: Mental Health Courts/Parts
Recently, there has been a rise in the appearance of criminal court defendants who have identified “mental health issues.” Throughout the past decades, the court system has positively responded to the needs and concerns of the public with the creation of various drug/alcohol treatment courts, recognizing that the historical or traditional court model did not effectively address the needs of criminal defendants or effectively deter them to discontinue criminal behavior.
The drug treatment court model was developed as a result of an identified need. The New York State Court System has embraced this model and has fully implemented and incorporated the treatment court model throughout the state court system. That drug treatment court model has been modified and evolved to include various other treatment courts. In this way, the state court administrators have recognized the needs of our communities in the realm of drug/alcohol addiction.
The mental health court has been a more recent addition to the realm of the treatment courts. A mental health court is a court, which diverts defendants with pending criminal charges who have severe and persistent mental health diagnoses from a regular criminal calendar to a calendar that specifically addresses the diagnosis of the defendant. The mental health court’s goal is to reduce costs to the public by reducing the involvement of the mentally ill defendants in the criminal court system and by reducing the number of hospitalizations and days in jail.
However, even with the development of the mental health court, there was a disconnect. In Erie County, only certain courts, such as the City Courts of Tonawanda, Buffalo and Lackawanna, had the resources and capabilities to implement a mental health court. Notably, mental health court cases could not be transferred from one local court to another or to a superior court. The Administrative Board of the Courts and the Chief Administrative Judge responded to this problem by successfully implementing an administrative order in April, 2012, that allows for the transfer of potential mental health court cases in courts throughout the Western New York area to those designated “Mental Health Court Parts,” in both the superior courts and on the local criminal court level.
Once again, the NYS Court System has recognized the need for mental health services and court monitoring for many criminal defendants, and has created the opportunity for all defendants, regardless of the court they are charged in or the resources available to that court, to have the ability to be processed through a mental health part.
The NYS Court System continuously responds to the needs of our communities at large. This is another example of them doing so. Therefore, a great big “thank you” certainly goes out to our Chief Administrative Judge, Hon. A. Gail Prudenti, our State Administrative Board, Hon. Judith Harris Kluger, who was one of the primary architects of the specialty courts system, and our local Administrative Judge, Hon. Paul L. Feroleto, for their vision, efforts and success in establishing mental health parts in our state courts.
Remember that our “specialty courts” work for you, your clients, your families and our communities - truly a win - win for all.