FREDERICK- On July 8th, 2019, the Maryland Court of Appeals approved the creation of the Frederick County District Mental Health Court. The new Problem Solving Court will serve defendants affected by mental health issues. It will be one of only a handful of Mental Health Courts in the State of Maryland. Currently, Frederick County also has a Drug Treatment Court. Creating innovative solutions to work with offenders has been a top priority for Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith.
Smith commented, “This has been a passion of mine for many years. Unfortunately, previous attempts were unsuccessful. We now have all of the pieces in place to launch what I consider a legacy program in Frederick County.” One of the greatest challenges facing the criminal justice system has always been recidivism rates. Smith added, “The revolving door involving these offenders was quite frankly frustrating. We would prosecute them, incarcerate them, and they would be back out on the streets doing the same offenses. I consider this crime fighting and an improvement to our public safety.”
Following the closure of many state mental hospitals in the 1980s, jurisdictions around the country struggled with mentally ill offenders. Starting in the 1990s, the criminal justice system found few alternatives to incarceration. With only a small number of mental health facilities in operation, the hope was offenders would get some form of therapy or medication while behind bars. In reality, the system was unable to provide that level of treatment. Problem Solving Courts are designed to provide treatment and accountability, so offenders can be rehabilitated while in our community.
The Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office has observed high recidivism with defendants with mental illness repeatedly arrested for low-level offenses such as shoplifting, trespassing, vandalism or disorderly conduct. Our case management system calculated 845 individual cases between 36 defendants over the last three years, averaging of 23 cases per individual.
State’s Attorney Smith believes these Problem Solving Courts not only aid offenders in getting their life back on track, but it helps the taxpayers as well. The goal is simple, treat mental health and substance abuse issues so that offenders have the necessary resources to return to our community as productive law-abiding citizens.
Joyce King, Smith’s Chief Counsel, was instrumental in getting the proposal submitted to the Judicial Council Committee on Specialty Courts. Following the approval, the State of Maryland awarded $100,000 for the first fiscal year of operations to fund a full-time Mental Health Court Coordinator and Clinician, as well as a part-time panel Public Defender. All of this could not have been possible without the assistance and cooperation of the Hon. Judge Dino Flores, Hon. Judge Earl Bartgis, Mary Riley of the Maryland Public Defenders Office, Hilari Young of Parole and Probation, Andrea Walker of the Local Behavioral Health Authority, and all partners of the Mental Health Public Safety Collaborative Committee.
The Frederick County Mental Health Court hopes to be operational by Fall 2019 after the positions are filled by Behavioral Health Services Division/Local Behavioral Health Authority of the Frederick County Health Department.