The first participant has enrolled in the Loudoun General District Court’s new mental health docket—a new program aimed at getting suspects whose crimes are related to mental illness into treatment rather than jail cells.
“Mental illness is a common factor in many of the cases we see and we’re hopeful by adding this component will help these folks get the treatment they need, reduce future involvement in the court system, and keep our communities safer,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman.
The goal of the program is to reduce recidivism and improve both individual clinical outcomes and public safety, by offering an individualized, comprehensive, community-based treatment plan with court supervision, for each participant.
The docket’s reach is limited. To qualify, the individual must be a Loudoun resident and have criminal charges that can be resolved in General District Court—in other words, misdemeanors, or felonies that the parties agree to resolve as misdemeanors. Participants must complete a two-part screening process and, if eligible, enter a plea agreement. Once accepted, participants will meet regularly with the mental health docket team to provide support to the individual, celebrate milestones, and monitor compliance.
“The Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Disability Services has resources at the jail and is providing services to people, and they are definitely overworked and underpaid,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy McMullen, who helped organize the program. “So this is a mechanism that we can try to get people services in the community. But we have to balance it, and Mr. Plowman is obviously concerned about public safety as well.”
The effort was spearheaded by members of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Public Defender, Department of Community Corrections, Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse, & Developmental Services, and the Loudoun General District Court. Those same agencies are represented on the mental health docket team by current staff members.
Docket team members began traveling throughout the commonwealth to observe existing mental health dockets in 2016. Creation of Loudoun’s Mental Health Docket was approved by the Virginia Supreme Court in May and screening of applicants began in mid-June. The team members also completed illness management and recovery training sponsored by the department of mental health in April, and a 32-hour training sponsored by the Virginia Supreme Court in May. Several team members also attended the mental health track of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals annual conference in Houston, TX, earlier this summer using federal grant funds obtained by the Loudoun Community Criminal Justice Board.
Judge Deborah C. Welsh presides over the docket.