'Phase out' of Marion County mental health court concern to many

Mentally ill inmates could spend more time in jail

INDIANAPOLIS - The Marion County mental health court is being "phased out" of existence, said Chief Public Defender Bob Hill, concerning some who say the changes will end up costing taxpayers more in the long run.

"We really don't have a mental health court anymore," Hill said. "I'm concerned a lot of our clients probably aren't getting the attention and insight they should get."

Judge Barbara Collins previously presided over Court 8, or Mental Health Court, but retired at the end of 2012.

A mental health court helps mentally ill inmates with resources, counseling, medications and navigating their personal life.

"When Judge Collins retired, Court 8 started phasing out of existence," explained Hill. "Now I'm concerned we're not moving people with mental health issues through the system quickly enough."

Hill pointed to clients like jail inmate Edwin Dozier, who suffers from bipolar schizophrenia and severe depression.

"It's pretty difficult," said Dozier. "I can't cope with emotions as well as normal people."

Dozier is one of the roughly 30 percent of Marion County jail inmates diagnosed with mental illness.

"Edwin's chances of getting out of jail sooner are decreased, and Edwin will spend more time in jail because we don't have a safety net in our community to provide for him," Hill said. "A community the size of Indianapolis should have a mental health court."              

The Call 6 Investigators have learned that could trickle down to the taxpayer.

"It costs roughly $80 a day to keep someone in jail with a mental illness," said Jennifer Deiter, Deputy Director with Community Corrections. "If we have them in Community Corrections on electronic monitoring, it costs roughly $4 a day. So that's a huge savings."

Deiter said the mental health problem is getting worse.

"Mental illness is on the rise because of the shutdowns with the state hospitals," Deiter said. "It's very prevalent."

Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Fogle explained the county does offer a diversion program called PAIR -- Psychiatric Assertive Identification and Referral -- for the mentally ill, but it's only for offenders with nonviolent, misdemeanor and non-sex offender crimes.

"It would be a cost savings if we could get an effective problem solving mental health court up and running," Fogle said. "The jail is no place to treat people that are mentally ill. That has to be done on the outside, but the public has to know they're getting their treatments."

Currently, the PAIR program has 196 defendants and 320 cases, with 51 defendants currently in the PAIR screening process.

"The problem with PAIR is it's not big enough," Hill said. "It needs to encompass more individuals."

Some argue establishing a new mental health court could prevent people like Edwin Dozier from re-offending.

"With medication, monitoring and case management, people will mental illness can be successful," Deiter said.

Dozier has been through Court 8 under Judge Collins and fears what his future holds without the assistance it offers.

He is taking classes through the Marion County jail, but he said it's not enough to get back on track.

"Mental illness should be dealt with at the source," said Dozier, who is currently on medication. "The illness is exactly that, an illness, and it needs to be treated."

Judge Barbara Cook Crawford is leading a group of judges, attorneys and mental health providers who are working to come up with a solution.

Crawford told RTV6 the hope is to get a new mental health court off the ground by Oct. 1, one that will be inclusive to the mentally ill of the community.

"That gives us six months to get it off the ground," Crawford said.

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