by Robin Kemp

Amid the trials of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, Clayton County Superior Court says it has launched the Clayton County Behavioral Health Accountability Court (CCBHAC) to help adults with mental illness get treatment instead of going to prison.

The accountability court starts in January 2021 and serves eligible adults facing felony and misdemeanor charges with possible pre-trial diversion and treatment.Participants will go before Judge Shana Rooks Malone.

Those who are selected “will have their case deferred or sentenced into the diversionary program (minimum of 12 months for misdemeanor offenders; minimum of 18 months for felony offenders) that uses State approved evidenced-based treatment curriculums, case management services, assigned surveillance officers, and regular drug urinalysis screens to guide recovery efforts in the community,” according to a press release from the court.

“The premise is that those with a severe and persistent mental illness will become productive members of society through court-appointed treatment and supervision, versus long term incarceration.”

Malone said, “When I served as a Clayton County Commissioner, I met with constituents who were concerned that their children, suffering from mental health disorders were not receiving the proper alternatives to sentencing. Many times police interactions with their loved ones escalated quicker than they imagined. It has been nestled in my mind, the need for Clayton County to have an accountability court that addresses these issues. Over the last several years, I have been committed to attending conferences and studying about behavioral/mental health and how the judicial system can stop-gap the time between offense and recidivism in order to address behavioral health concerns. I look forward to presiding over our new court.”

Jonathan Tucker, who will be the Behavioral Health Accountability Court Coordinator previously served in the same capacity in Fulton County, where he accomplished program certification and recertifications. Under his nine-year tenure, the program also won approval from peer reviewers.

“I’m excited to return to Clayton County and to have the privilege of being a part of this historic moment,” Tucker said. “There are still so many stigmas for those with a mental health diagnosis to overcome, and it is appropriate that the Clayton County Superior Court is investing in this initiative to help those with difficulties in life to overcome challenges that are not necessarily any fault of their own. Justice isn’t sending those with untreated impairments off to jail or prison where they can learn how to become better criminals, but giving them the treatment they desperately need, so that they become an asset to the community in which they live and play.”

Other accountability courts that Clayton County has established include Adult Felony Drug Court, DUI Court, and Veterans Treatment Court.

Learn more about mental health accountability courts from the Council of Accountability Court Judges of Georgia.