County, state officials meet as launch of Mental Health Court nears

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Shelby County is just a month away from launching a new program that seeks to get nonviolent, mentally ill criminals help instead of jail time.

On Thursday, different county departments and state agencies gathered around a table to discuss plans for Shelby County Mental Health Court.

"All of this has to fit together to work," Judge Gerald Skahan said.

Skahan walked stakeholders through some elements of the plan, still slated to start in January.

He will be the judge on the bench, working with offenders who are grappling with severe and persistent mental illness.

Mental Health Court is a voluntary program that will serve people charged with nonviolent misdemeanor crimes who plead guilty.

They will agree to complete Mental Health Court, which offers mental health services and substance abuse treatment.

"It'll allow us to divert people with mental illnesses from the prison environment, which is very costly," explained Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

Luttrell said Thursday's meeting was all about making sure everyone was on the same page for how things will work next month. He expects county departments and state agencies will continue meeting as the program lifts off.

"We're dealing with the core cause of their criminal behavior. If we can deal with that, then we can stop criminality or criminal behavior much quicker," Luttrell said.

Luttrell said jails and prisons are the largest holders of mental health cases in the county.

Mental Health Court includes inpatient treatment, drug screening, and educational or work programs for offenders.