Alabama city works to create a mental health court

Published 7:04 am Sunday, May 30, 2021

An Alabama city is working to establish a mental health court inside the city’s municipal court.

“This is one way, with really misdemeanor offenses, that those with mental health needs, that get into our system, can get treatment and help instead of jail-time,” Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said Friday.

Police responded to 612 mental wellness calls and 198 suicide calls in 2020, the city said.

Maddox recently appointed five people to a committee to provide recommendations that would help establish such a court, WBRC-TV reported.

“We need people who are going through acute mental health distress to get services and not be part of the court system,” Maddox said.

Maddox considers a mental health court similar to diversion programs that work with first time offenders.

“This allows the judge to sentence somebody to treatment instead of jail. We see this as no different. It provides the judge a list of options that are not as punitive, that could actually treat the mental health illness, instead of someone being sentenced to serve time or pay a large fine, but does nothing to deal with the mental health trauma that they’re going through at the time,” he said.

Maddox wants the mental health committee to present recommendations on a mental health court before the end of this year. He hopes to have it operating by early 2022.