As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, the City of Jersey City is highlighting their mental health court for those with underlying conditions.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“We recognized early on that mental health needs to be much more accessible to those who need it most so that we can help them become active and productive members of the community rather than the alternatives,” Mayor Steven Fulop said in a statement. .
“We established the specialized court as a more holistic way to better address the underlying root causes that may contribute to an individual’s involvement in the criminal justice system, and in turn have been able to reduce recidivism and ultimately improve public safety. . and quality of life for the community in general.”
In addition to the legal and programmatic outcomes, the GGD’s core function is to work with the municipal prosecutor, defense attorneys, psychiatrists and social workers in developing and overseeing a treatment plan for the specific needs of each litigant. .
Founded in partnership with the Jersey City Medical Center and housed in the Jersey City Municipal Court, Municipal Judge Kelly Austin has presided over the court.
“It’s very easy to say that mental health should be a priority and self-care a necessity. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. My Court is here to change that. We are here to help defendants navigate the complex mental health system and participate actively in treatment, while providing encouragement and support where needed,” she said.
Prosecutors who undergo treatment and successfully complete the program can then have their charges reduced or be dismissed, with the criminal record being expunged as soon as possible.
This serves as an alternative to prosecution, allowing individuals to avoid the imposition of criminal sanctions, including possible incarceration.
“There is no question that mental illness contributes significantly to crime and disorder. Many in the criminal justice system are hesitant to force offenders to seek the treatment they need and deserve,” added prosecutor Jake Hudnut.
“We in Jersey City have a robust mental health program that connects offenders with meaningful services and resources. This program enables us to apply justice and legal aid simultaneously, which will ultimately reduce recidivism. We are proud to have built a culture where Jersey City prosecutors are not only case handlers, but also active problem solvers.”
In addition to mental health treatment, participants are also referred for substance abuse treatment and a variety of social services, including vocational training, employment, and housing assistance.
“Jersey City City Court has been a leader in establishing and supporting alternative justice programs and courts,” added Ramy Eid, chief judge of the Jersey City City Court.
“Our mental health court, which has been recognized by the judiciary, plays a critical role in addressing the mental health challenges that have exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic.”