Mental health court tries to help break the cycle

Snohomish County diversion program looks for long-term solutions

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EVERETT — A new mental health court has opened in Snohomish County to help find solutions for people living with mental illness who are caught in the criminal justice system. It is designed to solve issues that can’t be easily addressed in a traditional court.

So far, two people have opted into the program. A third is in the early stages. The program could eventually manage 20 cases.

The pilot project is funded from a portion of a sales tax specifically collected to pay for services for those in the community living with a mental illness and those with substance abuse problems.

These cases would have been in some part of the court system, but are diverted to the mental health court to seek long-term solutions.

Participants likely will be someone “who has gone through the system over and over again,” said Everett District Court Judge Tam Bui, who presides over the new court.

The goal is to help people get stable and healthy so they can get out of the cycle, proponents say.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Hal Hupp will decide whether defendants are legally eligible for the program, by looking at the current charge, as well as any past criminal history. The court generally won’t accept anyone charged with a felony and will avoid anyone with a history of violence.

“We don’t want the program to fail because we brought in the wrong person,” Hupp said.

Participants must be engaged in treatment, meeting with court’s mental health liaison and following the recommendations of health care providers. The program also requires regular court visits; the court will maintain jurisdiction over the cases for two years.