Friday, Oct. 17, 2003 | 9:42 a.m.
With a $150,000 federal grant obtained Wednesday, everything is now in place for the opening of Clark County's Mental Health Court in December.
The money is to be used for a court that will allow nonviolent offenders with a mental illness to receive treatment and ongoing supervision instead of jail or prison time.
The court will function much like the county's Drug Court, and is modeled after mental health courts in Washoe County and Seattle.
"This grant enables Clark County to decriminalize the mentally ill by offering treatment and supervision rather than jail time," District Judge John McGroarty said. "Instead of punishing people for having a mental illness, we can now begin to help them."
People who have been charged with misdemeanors such as trespassing and prostitution, or even nonviolent felony offenses, could qualify for the Mental Health Court.
The court will check the status on offenders as they make progress in the program. It will begin with between 30 and 35 people currently in the Clark County Jail that have already been identified as having a mental illness.
The court could expand if the program is successful and if additional money is allocated by the Nevada Legislature in the future, court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said.
Part of the $150,000 grant will also pay for training of law enforcement personnel and judges.
"Without this court, and the treatment programs associated with it, many people with a mental illness will end up in the Clark County Detention Center," Sheriff Bill Young said.
Young estimates that it causes $34,000 a year to house an inmate at the jail.
A local advisory committee made up of judges, social service providers and mental health providers will support the court that McGroarty will run.