Shelby County Mental Health Court asks for funds to help more people

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Shelby County Mental Health Court is operating at capacity, after it started taking cases in January.

It has continued to receive referrals, and so the court is turning to the state for help.

"Shelby County has asked the state of Tennessee to assist by giving us money for another case management position, so that we might double the amount of people we're supporting through the court," said Shelby County Mental Health Coordinator Kim Daugherty.

Judge Gerald Skahan presides over Mental Health Court.

Daugherty said the court currently serves about 27 people.

It would like to serve closer to 50 people.

The county is asking the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for about $78,000 to hire another case manager to assist with more people.

Mental Health Court serves people with severe and persistent mental illness, facing nonviolent misdemeanor crimes.

That could be a crime like minor theft or criminal trespass.

They agree to plead guilty to enter the program, which offers access to mental health services.

"Obviously, the need is out there," said National Alliance on Mental Illness in Memphis Director Debra Dillon.

NAMI Memphis pushed for the program for years and said it supports the county's effort to expand it.

"If you put that person in jail, then they're not getting the resources that would keep them from running in contact with the legal system again as soon as they get out," Dillon said.

After completing the Mental Health Court program, participants can have the charge that got them there expunged.

The county said that under the program, it has seen a decrease in the number of arrests.

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