Judge Daniel Palmer, seen here in 2017, will help oversee the institution of a Community Treatment Court focusing on mental health issues in 32-A District Court in Harper Woods.

Judge Daniel Palmer, seen here in 2017, will help oversee the institution of a Community Treatment Court focusing on mental health issues in 32-A District Court in Harper Woods.

File photo by Deb Jacques

32-A District Court institutes new mental health court

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published June 17, 2019

HARPER WOODS — Thanks to a planning grant from the Michigan Supreme Court, 32-A District Court in Harper Woods is instituting a new Community Treatment Court focusing on assisting defendants with serious or persistent mental illness.

Commonly referred to as a mental health court, extensive follow-up analysis by the Michigan Supreme Court shows that in fiscal year 2017, graduates of mental health courts were nearly two times less likely to commit another crime two years after completing a mental health court program. The new court services began operation May 20.

Judge Daniel Palmer, the sitting judge in 32-A District Court, stated that addressing mental health as an integral part of the judicial process is not only a positive measure, but an absolutely necessary one.

“My time on the bench here in Harper Woods has shown me that there is a need for a Community Treatment Court to serve the citizens of Harper Woods,” Palmer said in an email. “Mental health issues are at the root cause for much of the crime committed here, whether it be drug and/or alcohol related co-occurring issues or domestic violence crimes. This program will assist in solving the underlying problems so that future crimes will not be committed by Mental Health Court graduates. This is backed up by the research and is very promising for our city.”

Palmer said the goal is not to let criminals “off the hook” by being able to claim mental health problems as an excuse for crimes — they will still be tried and sentenced — but rather, the goal is to ensure that if mental illness was a factor in the commission of a crime, that the defendant receives treatment so they not commit subsequent crimes.

“Oftentimes, someone with a mental illness will commit a crime that if they were treated, they might not be acting in a criminal manner,” he said. “If someone still has an untreated mental illness, they are much more likely to reoffend.”

The mental health services used by the court will be provided by All Well Being Services from Detroit. Marleen Miazga, the chief clinical officer for the nonprofit, said it will be offering a variety of mental health services, but the court itself determines who may qualify to be heard in the new court.

“We don’t determine who qualifies for the special court; they need to meet certain criteria to apply for the court,” she explained. “We then meet with them and determine how to best treat them.”

“The court will monitor those who go through this process and if they meet the requirements of their particular probation — which can include things like getting treatment and staying out of trouble — they can get a deferral,” added Palmer.

All Well Being Services will offer several new avenues for addressing a defendant’s potential issues.

“We provide an array of services. We assess the probationaries as they come in, and based on mental health criteria, we determine what treatment would best suit their needs,” said Miazga. “This could be, like, group services or therapy sessions. We also do case management services for them. A lot of people with mental illness have trouble getting things like health services or housing.”

Mental health courts such as the one at 32-A District Court are becoming more common as public awareness of mental health issues and their links to how and why some suspects commit crimes increases.

“A national dialogue has been building about the need to reform our criminal justice system, and a key component has been the success of mental health courts around the country,” Justice Elizabeth Clement, who is the Michigan Supreme Court’s liaison to problem-solving courts, wrote in a press release. “I am extremely proud that the Michigan Supreme Court has long championed and supported these courts so that graduates can improve their lives, take care of their families, and help make their communities stronger. Judge Palmer — as well as his team — is to be commended for his leadership and dedication to this program.”

“A lot of courts are trying to implement more mental health services, and more people are coming to learn that there is a strong link between a lack of mental health treatment and recidivism,” Miazga added. “A lot of the people who are going to jail have a diagnosis of mental illnesses, so we have an overpopulated jail in this area, so we are looking at ways to treat the individual and not overpack our jails. This cuts back on recidivism by treating their underlying issues and helping them cope better.”

The grant from the state was one many courts applied for, although few were selected.

“We applied (for the grant) and it’s a pretty rigorous process of applying,” said Palmer. “The grant is awarded from the Michigan Supreme Court. We went through training for this new program and received new software to help us coordinate these new services. ...You’re given a provisional certification ensuring you have all of your training and are prepared to add this to the court, and then they have annual certification visits to ensure you are still certification-compliant. The grant funding comes all through the state, so these additional services are all paid for so long as we remain certified.”

Palmer said studies, including a 2017 Michigan Supreme Court study from which he referenced statistics, said such courts make huge strides in addressing the well being of communities and those living in them.

“Anything that reduces recidivism and improves the lives of residents is something we want to have. Unemployment among mental health court graduates was cut by more than half, nearly 100% of juvenile mental health court graduates improved their education level, nearly 100% of graduates, both adult and juvenile, reported improved mental health and nearly 100% of graduates, both adult and juvenile, reported an improved overall quality of life. It’s an all around good thing and the Michigan Judiciary is pretty forward-looking in supporting these services.”