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Mental health court important

Too many people who continually pass through the criminal justice system have a mental health issue. And, when you combine that with a likely codependency involving alcohol or other drugs, it can lead to continued appearances in the courtroom, a situation that can put a strain on the criminal justice system as well as city finances.

It doesn’t have to be that way, as Steubenville Municipal Court Judge John Mascio has demonstrated through his plans to launch a mental health court.

The system will include an intensive program of supervised probation for offenders who have been diagnosed with a serious-to-severe mental illness that has led to the commission of a crime for which they have been convicted.

Mascio says it will be an intensive program, one which will require offenders to regularly report and confirm they are complying with court-ordered treatment. Not following the court’s orders will come with a penalty, which can range from community service to incarceration.

Those who successfully complete the program, however, will have the charge against them dismissed, and the case can be sealed.

There is a need for the program in the city, as Mascio explained earlier this month that of the 197 offenders he had on probation, 102 had a primary diagnosis of mental illness. The goal, he added, is to reduce recidivism, reduce jail costs and help offenders lead law-abiding lives.

Offenders certainly will have the opportunity to be helped through the program: They will be compelled to be regular in their mental health treatment, be compliant with their prescribed medication and learn skills that can help them become productive citizens.

Every resident of the city also will see benefits: The costs associated with incarceration will decrease and criminal court dockets should decrease.

A portion of the funding for the court will come from a $60,000 grant, Mascio explained. On Thursday, the Jefferson County commissioners signed off on the grant, praising Mascio’s efforts.

And, while there will be costs associated with the move — a community coordinator will be needed to oversee the program — any money spent will return important dividends to the community in the future.

As an example, the judge points to the court’s intensive probation for drug and alcohol offenses program, which has been in place since 2014. During that period, he said, jail costs have dropped to $79,000 in 2019, down from $120,000 in 2014.

Special dockets like drug courts and mental health courts do work, Mascio said — they reduce recidivism and help people lead productive lives in their community.

Mascio pledged he would bring changes to Municipal Court when he was first elected in 2015. His call for a mental health court is another example of his consideration of innovative programs. It’s a win-win for all involved — those who suffer from mental illness, a court system which can easily become overburdened and members of the community.

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