Health & Medicine

Fayette County offers services, supervision to mentally ill nonviolent offenders

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Mentally ill Lexington residents can get supervised treatment instead of jail time if they commit nonviolent offenses.

A judicial diversion program for those with mental illness recently started in Fayette County District Court. The new Mental Health Court held its first session in late November.

"This program is about getting people off the streets and into the treatment they need to lead productive lives instead of continuing to cycle through our criminal justice system," Mayor Jim Gray said in a news release. "Mental Health Court will improve the lives of its participants and public safety in Lexington, and will have the added benefit of saving taxpayer money."

Fayette District Court Judge Kim Wilkie said that two years ago, a group of representatives of the mental health and criminal justice communities supported offering a Mental Health Court.

Similar to the successful Drug Court and Veterans Court programs, Mental Health Court is an alternative to the traditional judicial system. Eligible participants include nonviolent defendants who have been referred to Mental Health Court by a judge.

The goal is to reduce the incarceration rate of mentally ill offenders through mental health treatment services, court supervision and improved personal accountability.

The city's Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention will provide startup funding to support the Mental Health Court in its first few years of operation. Funding for the project will go before the Urban County Council for approval.

"Mental illness is a major contributing factor to homelessness in Lexington, and some of our citizens are caught in a cycle of streets, jails and institutions," said Charlie Lanter, director of the homelessness program.

"By supporting this diversion program, we expect to stabilize some of the more chronically homeless individuals in our community and help them secure housing and other necessary supports to keep them off the streets," Lanter said.