February Report, part 1

The meeting was called to order at 6:17;  20 attenders.

Our speaker was Judge Lisa Janzen, Fourth Judicial District.  After several years as an assistant public defender in the 7th and 1st districts and managing attorney in the 1st District Public Defender’s Office, Judge Janzen was appointed to the bench in June of 2016 by Governor Mark Dayton.  After 3 years handling felony cases, she requested a rotation into treatment courts because she had a background working in treatment courts as a public defender.  Her assignment to Hennepin County Mental Health Court began in January 2020.  She also presides in Veterans Court. 

The  Minnesota Judicial Branch supports Treatment Courts throughout the state.  Hennepin County currently has 4 treatment courts within the criminal court system,  Adult Drug Court,  DWI court,  Adult Mental Health court and Veterans Court.  Judge Janzen  explained that Treatment Courts began approximately 20 years ago and are now in place in courts throughout the country.  The practices of treatment courts are based on an approach in criminal justice called “Evidence Based Practices.  In other words,  the practices of the courts and probation are based on an extensive body of research throughout the criminal justice system which concludes that treatment courts lower the recidivism rate.  Treatment courts are an alternative to incarceration in prison or jail; research shows there is a substantial cost savings to the criminal justice system when a defendant is successful in treatment court.    All treatment courts are now expected to apply what is termed, Best Practices.   Treatment Courts in Minnesota are overseen by State Court Administration.

Note:  when treatment courts are started up in a county, it is an extra court — an addition to the normal court load.  Frequently treatment courts apply for grants from the Department of Justice and other agencies to assist with costs.   The Minnesota Legislature also allocates funds specifically to treatment courts in its budget to the Judicial Branch.   In smaller counties, a treatment court may be scheduled for perhaps an afternoon each week, managed by one judge.  Hennepin County now has a large enough program to have two full time judges assigned to Treatment Court.

A Treatment Court is

  • A voluntary program — that is,  the defendant is admitting the charge against them and looking for help and support to change their behavior;  the defendant must voluntarily agree to abide by the terms of a treatment  court,
  • An alternative to the normal progress of a criminal case,
  • Offered to defendants who are at high risk to reoffend and have high needs such as chemical dependency, serious and persistent mental illness and may also             need assistance finding housing and getting other social services in place.
  • A collaboration among many professionals:  the courts, probation officers, social services, the county attorney and the public defenders offices.
  • A program that holds the offender to strict, intensive probation standards and holds them accountable for missteps. 

Hennepin County offers four treatment courts for adults: 

  • Mental Health Court is a court-supervised treatment program for adults who have committed felonies or misdemeanors AND have been diagnosed  with a serious and persistent mental illness,  Traumatic Brain Injury, or who have significant cognitive impairment.
  • Veterans Court serves veterans charged with a criminal offense and works in tandem with services being offered by the VA or Veterans Centers.
  • Drug Court is for people with adult felony level drug violations who are at high risk to reoffend.
  • DWI Court handles repeat driving under the influence offenders who need extra support to remain sober and crime-free. 

GOALS OF MENTAL HEALTH COURT

  •    Promote stability in the participant’s life, and to
  •    Facilitate access to services and resources, which should lead to further goals:
    •    Reduce recidivism,
    •    Reduce hospitalization,
    •    Increase compliance with probation,  and all of those goals likely will lead to
    •    Reduce jail sentences (jail can be in conflict with their need for support)

Who can participate (specific to Mental Health Court):  Adults with felony or misdemeanor charges, who are  diagnosed with serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI), traumatic brain injury or substantial cognitive impairment. The SPMI  may include a major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder.  This must be diagnosed by mental health professionals.

·         Who can’t participate:            

  •   Persons guilty of  criminal sexual conduct or registered as a  Level 3 registered sex offender.
  •   Persons on supervised release or parole from the Dept of Corrections.
  •   Persons who are NOT residents of Hennepin or Ramsey Counties; this is a transportation issue, not a residence issue.
  •   Additionally, the County Attorney can veto a person’s admission to Mental Health Court, after conference with law enforcement and others.

People who want admission to any treatment court in Hennepin County go through a screening process.  The screening team includes probation officers and licensed social workers.  Each applicant is evaluated for risk and needs level based on court and medical/mental health records.  The screening team ultimately advises whether a defendant meets the criteria for treatment court and recommends which treatment court would be the best fit.

Participation in a treatment court involves a much higher level of probation supervision and many more requirements than routine criminal probation.  So why would a defendant chose to participate?  If they complete the MHC program, they have done a lot of hard work and have made measurable progress.  Thus, they are likely to get a more favorable plea offer such as a downward departure from sentencing, including no jail time served.  Their charge may be reduced from a felony.  If their charge is a misdemeanor they may get  a stay of adjudication which ultimately results in a dismissal of charges.

How is success defined by the court?  The participant remains law abiding, maintains complete sobriety,  takes medications as prescribed, complies with their individualized care plan, obtains stable housing (many are homeless), obtains employment or enters an education program or a social community program or activities.  The time span is expected to be 12 to 18 months unless there is a relapse, which resets the procedure, starting with a new treatment plan, with closer oversight by the probation officer.  

Progress is monitored frequently in the beginning of the program with frequent court appearances and meetings with probation officers, who may mandate frequent and random urinalysis and/or chemical dependency treatment, and may require attendance at meetings like AA or NA.  Research shows that being held accountable, not just by the probation officer but also by the judge, is an effective way to ensure compliance.  With that level of contact, if a person misses an appointment, a U.A. or another requirement, the Probation Officer knows right away. 

Each participant has an individual care plan, agreed upon by mental health professionals, probation officers and other experienced, credentialed people.  The plan may include taking medications as prescribed, keeping appointments with mental health providers, participating in cognitive behavior programs where people learn how to make better decisions.  Participants may be required to live in supportive housing, if, for example, their usual home is also the residence of someone who has a detrimental lifestyle.  Some people may qualify to live in a group home.  Some may qualify to live in an intensive residential treatment home.

Mental Health Court programs are completed in 3 phases.  A participant can advance to a higher phase only after meeting the requirements of the prior.  The participant receives a “Phase Completion Certificate” which is awarded in court with applause and congratulations from the judge who monitors their progress through the process.  Incentives for staying in the program through all three phases include praise from the judge and probation officer, fewer court appearances and probation officer meetings, fewer urinalysis tests, fewer travel restrictions. 

On completion of all three phases, a participant must file a Graduation Petition.  If it is approved, the participant is presented with a diploma at a special hearing at which the participant and all team members may speak, talking about how much has been achieved. It’s not unusual for the participant to speak to others in the room who are still working to complete a phase — the members support each other and listen to each other.  After Graduation, a felony-level participant is placed on Administrative Probation, which is unsupervised probation (BUT the probation officer does a criminal check every six months, until the probation period runs out.  If a violation appears on the record, it  would restart the program.)

If someone messes up, the likely sanctions include written assignments or reports, an increase in the number of court appearances, probation meetings and or urinalysis tests.  A participant may be  required to do community work service or a “Sentence to Service” requirement (where you work for the county).  Alcohol monitoring or electronic home monitoring may be imposed, with a curfew.  Incarceration is a last resort because it impacts other areas, like holding a job, participating in treatment or counseling, losing contact with children, and more.  Some participants may need to return to jail to be held until a place can be found in an in-patient facility.  At worst, the participant will be terminated from treatment court and the original sentence will be imposed. 

The Statistics (as of April, 2019) -908  people have participated since January 1, 2013.  The current numbers (January ’20) are Felony=147 and Misdemeanor=24.

Graduation rates:  Mental Health Court  about 50%; DWI=80%; Drug Court = 56%; Veterans Court = 52%

Mental Health Court demographics:

                        Felony-   African American=54%; Caucasian=35%; Native American=6%; Multi-racial/other=4%; Asian=0%

                        Misdemeanor-  African American=33%; Caucasian=38%; Native American=13%;  Multi-racial/other=8%; Asian=4%

          Gender distribution – Felony-  Male=76%; Female=24%.  Misdemeanor- Male=58%; Female=42%

QUESTIONS from attenders –  

1) How does this differ from Civil Commitment?  ANSWER – In order to begin a civil commitment, a medical professional, a psychiatrist or psychologist must say they are a danger to  themselves or others, “right  now”.  A lot of the people in Mental Health Court do not meet this criteria.  It is possible that people in MHC are also in civil commitment.  The court processes are completely separate.

2) If people want to observe these courts  they are open court.  Monday morning is Veterans Court, felony Mental Health Court is on Tuesday and Thursday morning, misdemeanors are Wednesday morning.

3) What are Special Courts recidivism rates vs general court?  ANSWER – We don’t have stats for Hennepin County right now.  On the national level, Special Courts recidivism rates are  25 to 30% less than for general courts.

4) How do you get sober housing?  ANSWER –  If a person qualifies for chemical dependency treatment,  part of their funded treatment plan may include residing in a Sober Home after completion of primary treatment.  This housing would be put in place and approved by a county social services Case manager.  Other housing options might include a Group Home or an Intensive Residential Facility.  Whether a defendant is able to reside in these housing options depends on whether they meet certain criteria determined by the Department of Human Services and their county Case Manager.

5) Is there adequate staffing to keep up with MHC treatments? ANSWER –  The amount of support, resources available in Hennepin County is incredible.  Of course it would be beneficial to have additional probation officers, social workers and case workers, but looking around the country, we are fortunate to have the level of resources dedicated to treatment courts in Hennepin County and incredibly talented, dedicated and hard-working professionals helping M.H.C. participants.

6) What happens if a judge can’t make a court day (if they’re on vacation or need a medical out day).  ANSWER – There is a certain amount of money available for retired judges to come in for a day.  One retired judge used to preside in Drug Court and he comes in frequently. 

7) What is missing from the system to improve MHC?  ANSWER – We need more housing and treatment facilities for people.  There are not enough group homes or intensive residential treatment centers.  There are not enough crisis beds. For people who fall through the cracks — are not at the commitment level —  there are not enough services available for their level of need.  People may have to wait two months to see their psychiatrist to get their meds.  

That is not the courts’ issue; that is social services and the mental health system resource issue.  Some progress is being made.  For example, one facility in Minneapolis was only a detoxification center in the past.  It’s now an emergency mental health center, with crisis beds and walk-in mental health assistance.  It is an alternative to jail for law enforcement to bring someone they find in a mental health crisis.  Also, if they know about it, people can walk in and ask for help.   There are social workers, mental health and medical professionals on staff, crisis beds and medication services available.  This is at 1800 Chicago Ave.  

EQ – FFI  Special Courts are available in many Minnesota counties.  For a brief outline of state-wide special services available click here:  https://tinyurl.com/wjf5ktm

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