Mental Health Court gives non-violent criminals an option to lead a more normal life

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MADISON, Ala. - Mental health care is something you're hearing a lot about these days.  Officials are saying it's the way to make sure things like the recent shooting in Florida don't happen. In Madison County, the court system operates a special program that works to correct mental health issues for non-violent criminals.

There are 32 people in Madison County's Mental Health Court who are working to get their lives back on track. But, it's not easy.

"They have a judge in their business, we have a social worker that goes out and checks on them during the week and talks to their family," District Judge Patty Demos said.

Judge Demos helps run mental health court. She meets with the participants on the first and third Fridays of each month, and that's not the only requirement.

"Meeting with me to discuss how they're doing with getting to their appointments, of course mental health counseling, treatment is part of the program," Judge Demos explained about the components.

To enter mental health court, a defense attorney submits an application for the client. The person does have to plead guilty, and a person must have a disorder that's treatable.

"If you get through, your case will be dismissed," Judge Demos said. "If you don't get through, there is already a plea agreement in the file."

Participants don't have to pay for the program, but there are costs involved.

"They do have to pay for their medications," Judge Demos said. "They do have to pay for their counseling and treatment at Wellstone, or whatever other medical providers they go to."

Those in the program must pay restitution too. But, Judge Demos is confident in the program. She's seen it set people free.

"Hopefully by the end of that year, they're actually a part of a community," Judge Demos explained. "They're stabilized with their medications, and they're ready to proceed on with life and not be back in the criminal system again."