WACO, TX — McLennan County will add two specialty courts this summer to provide resources to inmates who are veterans or have a mental illness.
The mental health court and veterans court will help participants who have untreated conditions with the goal of preventing them from committing a crime again.
McLennan County Associate and visiting Judge David Hodges will preside over the mental health court, which will initially meet every two weeks.
The law library on the fourth floor of the McLennan County courthouse will be transformed into a courtroom, which will be used for the mental health court.
In many cases, the eligibility of participants will be determined after a mental health screening of non-violent inmates.
Hodges, defense attorneys, prosecutors and agencies helping people cope with a mental health illness will work together to keep participants engaged in treatment.
"We currently have approximately 200 people in jail that the jail administrator said are being treated for mental illnesses. We can reduce the jail population, reduce the cost of the jail administration and all of that by getting this people out and getting them into services," Hodges said.
He added in some cases, people arrested who have a mental illness will be diverted and sent to mental health treatment facilities instead of the jail. However, that would depend on the severity of the criminal charges.
In other cases, defense attorneys may file an application if the inmate was not screened for mental health illness at the jail but it became apparent later on.
Seventy-fourth District Court Judge Gary Coley, who will oversee the Veterans Court, said it will have the same goal of the mental health court.
It aims to help non-violent inmates who served in the military and have combat-related PTSD or other mental conditions related to their service.
This program will give eligible veterans charged with a misdemeanor an alternative to probation. It will connect them with resources, including medical benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the services from Veterans One Stop.
"There are so many different programs available, we think there is some connectivity issues in terms of linking those veterans up with those programs. Quite frankly the veterans in our community deserve that type of help and get that direction so that they can stabilize and not face these issues going forward," Coley said.
A joint presentation form the Baylor Law Veterans Clinic and the Veterans One Stop at a Commissioners Court meeting last summer indicated the veterans court would also bring savings. It stated that by keeping 10 veterans out of jail for a 30-day-period, the county would save $18,000 a month.
McLennan County already has a specialty court for people driving while under the influence and drug court. That program provides judicial intervention and substance abuse treatment to help offenders turn their lives around and improve public safety by reducing DWI and drug related offenses.