BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WALA) - Baldwin County is now one of the first counties in Alabama to begin creating a mental health court, after Gov. Ivey signed the bill this week.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Simpson (R--Daphne) creates a funding mechanism for the new court, which is designed to get non-violent criminals with mental health issues treatment, rather than put them in jail.
"We're terribly excited about it because its been something that's been needed for years," Baldwin County District Attorney Bob Wilters said. "When your Department of Corrections and your county jail are the biggest providers of mental health in the state of Alabama, that's wrong."
Mental illness in the county jail has created several problems and is also a safety concern for both inmates and corrections officers, Wilters says.
Debbie Plotnick, mental health expert with Mental Health America, congratulated Baldwin County Thursday for the bill's passage.
"Putting someone in jail not only doesn’t make them better, it usually makes them much much worse," Plotnick said. “Once [people with mental illness] get into the criminal justice system it’s really hard to get out.”
The new mental health court will operate similarly to already established drug courts, seeking out treatment and support for criminals with mental illness convicted of minor crimes.
"It took me to change my way of thinking to make drug court work and it's continued to work," Wilters said. "Now we've got to change a lot of ways we think about mental illness to make mental health court work."
The Baldwin County District Attorney's Office, judges, and health experts will now begin designing and, over time, implementing the new mental health court.