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Court Seeks Solutions not Incarcerations

HAMILTON COUNTY, Ohio (Rich Jaffe) -- Twice a week a pair of Hamilton County common pleas court judges, along with a team of highly trained professionals, participate in one of the most unusual court proceedings you'll ever see, mental health court.

The goal of the program is to keep the clients or defendants out of jail
and channel them into programs that will give them the help they need.  In a story you'll see only on Local 12, Rich Jaffe went to court Friday for a look at this uplifting program.

Judge John Andrew West is telling a group around a large table, "I don't know that we need to rush him into a program as long as he's taking his meds.  But if you have a program in mind I'm willing to encourage him."

Welcome to an unusual Courthouse Conference.  Every Friday morning before court Judge John Andrew West meets with counselors, case workers, probation officials, a prosecutor and a defense attorney.  They discuss medications,programs,progress and problems.

A social worker from Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health tells the group, "He still has his apartment.  He's thinking about moving to a new apartment just because of the past issues that have happened there but he's feeling confident enough to go back to that."

After talking about each upcoming case,the extraordinary court begins.

The clients are here because their mental issues contributed to their criminal ones.  In this court though they get support, help and encouragement.

Jillane Holland,a social worker tells Local 12, "I love this program because we get to kind of stop the revolving door of our folks getting picked up for jail.  A lot of our folks get picked up for petty crimes.  Crimes related to their mental illness, related to their homelessness, related to their social situation so this puts a stop to the constant in and out of the jail."

Not driving after taking his meds earned this young man accolades.

The judge tells him, "I'm really really proud of you for that decision."

This woman comes to court every week just to chat with the judge.

This one came asking advice on how to deal with her boyfriend.

The judge tells her, "So tell him to come back to court with you and I can meet him and talk to him and I can give you a better idea about him."
In mental health court celebrations are a commonplace event: birthdays, holidays, you name it.  Today, nothing special but still, they have cupcakes.

Judge West explains, "I think all of us have been touched by mental illness. In my particular case I had a sister that was mentally ill, so I understand how mental illness can impact a family, not just the person.  So I do take it personally. They all have particular problems but they have so much baggage and so if we're able to help them I'm all for it."

After telling the judge he wanted to come back next week to celebrate his birthday this young man wanted a handshake.

As they left the courtroom Judge West told everyone, "Make me proud."

And they probably will. 

Judge West sits on mental health court every Friday.  Judge Jody Luebbers holds similar hearings every Wednesday.  Each of the judges has about 20 active cases at any one time and they supervise each case for up to three years.

They also hold two ceremonies a year for their graduates.

Watch video HERE



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