Kenya Anderson Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle | USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE
Montgomery County now joins other Tennessee counties such as Davidson, Rutherford and Williamson in offering a new Mental Health Court support program.
The 19th Judicial Court celebrated the opening of the Mental Health Court on Thursday at the Montgomery County Commission chambers with Sharita Brown, Director of the Mental Health Court in Montgomery County and Gov. Bill Lee attending the launch.
The Mental Health Courts are a part of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services recovery courts system that are “judicially-supervised dockets that reduce correctional cost, protect community safety and improve public welfare.” The program focuses on
those suffering from mental illnesses who have a misdemeanor or felony offense. Efforts to get a Mental Health Court in Montgomery County began in 2021 by Judge Katy Olita who noticed defendants cycling through the courts. Not long after, Olita attended the Tennessee Judicial Conference that featured a discussion on mental health.
“As I listened to that presentation I started asking myself, could we do this in the 19th (Judicial District),” Olita said at the opening of the Mental Health Court. “Would it help those for whom the traditional criminal justice system is not working?”
She reached out to county and city leaders, local mental health providers and law enforcement to see if the program would be helpful, and received a resounding “yes.”
The next step was to acquire funding for the court. Olita said during the time the process began in Montgomery County, the state of Tennessee had just funded four Mental Health Courts.
A social media post led Olita to a Clarksville-Montgomery County Community Health Foundation grant. With the Mental Health Treatment Act of 2022, Montgomery County was able to receive state funding, and two years after the start of her push, the court was opened.
“I am happy to announce today that the 19th Judicial District Mental Health Court has launched and is accepting applications,” Olita said at the opening last week.
Olita wasn’t alone in her efforts. At the opening, she expressed thank yous and appreciation to many people who helped her along the way with grant writing, partnership in the development of the program and those who helped the program become a reality in Montgomery County, including director Brown.
“As we begin this great work, I’ll ask you to stop first and envision life as the ultimate marathon,” said Brown at the opening of the Mental Health Court. “Fortunately, for some of us, we have been blessed enough to have been coached, better trained and even conditioned for this journey. Some of our participants may not have. As Mental Health Court, we are jumping into our participants’ marathons. With the ultimate goal, not to necessarily win life’s race, but simply to finish a few laps together.”
Gov. Lee noted the importance of the program in his remarks.
“What that means is more and more Tennesseans’ lives are being impacted by this, more Tennesseans are benefitting from the work of courts like this one”, said Gov. Lee at the opening. “The good news is, I don’t think we’re done. I think every time we see a life changed, it’s a clear understanding of what this court’s for and a clear understanding that we have opportunity to expand.”
Qualifications for the program
Anyone interested in the Mental Health Court must meet certain qualifications, including:
h Must be a resident of Montgomery County
h Must voluntarily agree to enter the Mental Health Court
h Must be 18 years or older
h Must have misdemeanor or felony offense
h Must have serve or persistent mental health condition
h Can’t have violent charges that would make them ineligible More information about the Mental Health Court will be available on the Montgomery County website soon.
Reporter Kenya Anderson can be reached at kanderson@ nashvill.gannett.com or on X at KenyaAnderson32.