YAKIMA — One recent morning in Yakima County Superior Court, a man in his 30s told the court commissioner how he quit taking his medication, which caused him to fall in with the wrong crowd and commit a felony: He threatened to kill someone.
Even though he failed to comply with a court order requiring him to stay in mental health treatment, the man said he still wants to put his life back together.
“I’d like to go to school,” he told Commissioner Robert Inouye. “I’d like to fix the relationships the best I can with my family.”
Inouye commended the man, who had been jailed for a week, for recently meeting with his mental health team and resuming his medication.
The man, who the Yakima Herald-Republic agreed not to identify, is among a growing number of people in Yakima County who are jailed for committing crimes after they’ve become mentally unstable.
Many of these offenders cycle through the jail and courts repeatedly because they suffer from mental illness, the underlying cause of their criminal behavior.
Now, Yakima County is taking a new approach toward offenders with mental health issues. A mental health court has been established to place them with a professional mental health team. Those experts are charged with stabilizing the offenders and placing them on a path to a more productive life.
If the offenders comply with the court’s terms, their charges are dismissed. The court program aims to address the mental illness of these types of offenders and break their cycle of criminal behavior while keeping them out of jail, which is expensive.
Each Tuesday morning, Inouye presides over mental health court. He decided to give the man in his 30s another chance and arranged for him to get care in an inpatient facility.
“Our goal isn’t to throw them out,” Inouye said after the hearing. “Our goal is to get them to a point where they have good, stable mental health.”