Polk County Courthouse (Courtesy of Jolene Guzman/Polk Itemizer-Observer)

A specialty court in Polk County geared toward helping people with mental illness in the criminal justice system is ending next month. Now, the county is looking to shift resources toward a model that better serves people with more severe mental health needs.

Polk County’s Mental Health Court started in 2016 to help people with mental illness charged with low-level crimes through diversion, case management and therapy. 

“The primary reason (it’s going away) is it’s not serving those high risk, high need severely mentally ill individuals within our communities. Those that a need high-level resources aren’t eligible, they’re unable to participate in the program as its structured,” said Jodi Merritt, director of Polk County Community Corrections.

She said people in the court program are expected to show up for appointments each week, which isn’t possible for some of the clients they’re trying to serve because their conditions are so severe they struggle to complete daily tasks.

Merritt said Polk County doesn’t have the resources to have multiple programs serving the same demographic.

“We’re in the process of trying to devise how (a new program) works here within our community,” Merritt said.

The new program, called Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (or “FACT”), is spin-off of an existing program in Polk County called Assertive Community Treatment, which provides wraparound services for adults with serious mental illness who are most at risk of state hospital admission or who have recently exited a psychiatric hospitalization.

The new model adds a probation officer to the mix, Merritt said, and it’s recognized by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

SAMHSA said FACT is designed to improve mental health outcomes, reduce recidivism by addressing people’s risk of engaging in new crimes and reduce costs of recurring arrests, jail time and hospitalization.  

Merritt said the last day of court will be on April 2. Two people will graduate and the other four currently in the program will continue with treatment, she said.

She said people who would have gone through the court will still receive treatment, but there won’t be a weekly court date with a judge. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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