EVERETT — The city’s initiative to divert people with mental health issues who are facing misdemeanors into a special court is starting to show good results.
Established in mid-2013, the city’s Mental Health Alternatives Program, formerly known as the Criminal Justice Alternative Program, has graduated 10 people, and recidivism has been low, said Laura Van Slyck, the presiding judge at the Everett Municipal Court who oversees the program.
Those 10 offenders came into the program with 125 criminal charges among them, Van Slyck said.
In the year since those 10 have graduated, only one has reoffended, leading to two new charges.
Van Slyck told the Everett City Council that the investment in the program has been worth it.
“You’ve had people out for over a year and we have not heard a peep from them,” she said. “Not even a traffic ticket.”
The program is targeted at nonviolent offenders whose mental health issues might cause them to reoffend. Instead of jail time, people the program get pointed toward services they need to keep them straight, whether it’s therapy, medications or stable housing.
Graduates of the program may have their charges dismissed.
Participants in the program go before Van Slyck twice a month for advice, guidance or direction for at least a year.
As of this month, there are 19 people taking part in the Mental Health Alternatives Program. Only two people since the court’s inception have been dismissed from the program for failing to keep up with the requirements of the court.
The program predates Everett’s Community Streets Initiative, last year’s task force that identified steps to take to combat the city’s chronic problems with homelessness, mental health, addiction and petty crime.
But in its final report, the task force made expanding the use of therapeutic courts one of its key recommendations. In its final report issued a year ago, the task force recommended creating a drug court and exploring the feasibility of specific homeless courts and community courts.
The court also has been selected for study as part of the Public Service Clinics at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. The program has second-year graduate students research real-world policy issues for their final projects.
Councilman Paul Roberts told Van Slyck that in addition to being kept abreast of the study, its results will be made available to the council, and by extension, the public.
Many people across the country feel the criminal justice system isn’t working, Roberts said, and should be made more aware of innovative programs like the mental health court.
“There is where this stuff happens,” Roberts said.
“I hope this information comes to the public so they can see what is happening,” he said.