Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis announced that the Third Circuit is creating an alternative Mental Health Court aimed at intervening to provide assistance and treatment to persons with mental illnesses who have committed misdemeanor crimes.

The strictly voluntary program is expected to be in place by October.

"We are seeing a growing number of people with untreated mental illness entering the criminal justice system," Sheriff Robert Hertz said.

"The mission of the Court partnering with law enforcement will be to intervene quickly to provide immediate diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and supervision and case management by the Probation Department and local treatment providers."

Judge Callis added, "If we can identify people with mental illnesses when they first enter the criminal justice system and get them connected to a mental health program, we can help them manage their mental illness without further criminal activity in the community."

Under the new program, police departments and the sheriff's department can refer people who have committed misdemeanor crimes to the Alternative Court.

If they are accepted, they will receive treatment services, housing assistance, help with obtaining any needed medications and other state and federal benefits to which they may be entitled.

They also will receive supervision and case management to make certain they continue to receive these services from the Probation Department and the local mental health treatment providers.

"If we intervene early and get these individuals connected to appropriate treatment and services, we will help them and protect the community, at the same time," Callis said.

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