May 27, 2024

Yolo County’s Mental Health Diversion Court celebrates two graduations – Daily Democrat

With a full courtroom at the Yolo County Superior Courthouse earlier this month, officials, program participants and members of the community came together to celebrate two new graduates of the Mental Health Diversion Court program.

Officially launched in February 2022, this groundbreaking initiative is aimed at addressing the needs of individuals with mental health disorders in which their behavioral health issues were a significant factor in the commission of criminal offenses.

The program was established to support individuals who do not require as intensive treatment as those who qualify for Mental Health Court but with the same intent to increase treatment engagement and reduce arrests, hospitalizations, and incarceration.

“We have Addiction Intervention Court and we have Mental Health Court, but we felt there was an underserved population that didn’t quite fit into those courts,” explained Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven previously. “It was Tracie Olson, who is our public defender, and I who got together and we tried to figure out how we could create a program for a different segment of individuals who are having some mental health issues or substance use disorders or both where we could try to use the court system to decriminalize and try to help people get well and keep them out of the system.”

The Wednesday, July 19 ceremony was opened by the Honorable Judge Janet Gaard, who helped bring Mental Health Court to Yolo County and came out of retirement to serve as the Mental Health Diversion judge, and featured emotional speeches by the dedicated public servants and CommuniCare staff who played a vital role in guiding the graduates to this important achievement.

Funded by the Yolo County Community Corrections Partnership, the Mental Health Diversion program is a collaborative effort, bringing together key stakeholders including the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Probation Department, Sheriff’s Office, the court and CommuniCare Health Centers.

“A graduation from one of our collaborative courts is always cause for celebration,” Gaard said. “The ceremonies demonstrate that, with hard work and commitment on the part of the participants, and with the support of an amazing team, people who are involved in the criminal justice system can change their lives in so many positive ways. They can repair family relationships, get jobs, go to school, get off drugs and alcohol, obtain housing and mentor others. They make us proud, but more importantly, they make themselves proud.”

The Mental Health Diversion program operates on a minimum one-year court-based treatment and monitoring system for adult offenders, specifically tailored to address the growing number of defendants struggling with mental health and cycling through the courts and jails.

Currently serving 30 participants who are facing felony or misdemeanor charges, the program provides individualized treatment plans that address participants’ specific needs, interests and capabilities, focusing on physical, mental and emotional well-being.

In order to graduate participants must meet a number of requirements including: having zero positive tests for over 210 days; being medication compliant as recommended by medical providers; no unexcused absences for 180 consecutive days; have obtained consistent employment, vocational training, education training or engaged in other productive uses of their time; and developed a definitive aftercare plan, among other requirements.

The graduation ceremony featured heartfelt speeches from the two graduates, a man and a woman, who shared their remarkable journeys of personal growth and recovery.

The male graduate was the first to enroll in the Mental Health Diversion program. He proudly announced 451 days of sobriety at the ceremony, a testament to his dedication and hard work. He expressed gratitude to CommuniCare staff for their unwavering support, highlighting the program’s significant impact on his life.

“It’s inspiring to watch the transformation and evolution of individuals in this program who have been given a second chance by the criminal justice system. Our collaborative team provides incredible support, but it’s the motivation and dedication of the individuals that really make the difference,” stated Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig. “My hope now is to find additional funding to expand the program, which currently has a waitlist, so we can help others who are struggling.”

Currently, the program is at its full capacity with 30 participants enrolled. Thirteen participants have successfully completed outpatient substance use disorder treatment, and four have successfully completed residential treatment.

The program celebrated its first two graduates back in March when Adrian Rodriguez and Joseph Rodriguez became the first two people to successfully complete the Mental Health Diversion program. Woodland City Councilman Richard Lansburgh, who also served as Adrian’s defense attorney, said that the program “saved [Adrian’s] life.”

“That’s a bold statement, but it’s true and he’s the first person to tell you that his life has changed, hopefully, forever,” Lansburgh said during the March 2023 graduation ceremony.

The Mental Health Diversion program’s success was passionately emphasized by a representative from the Public Defender’s Office at the ceremony, who praised the graduates and the program’s commitment to supporting individuals on their path to healing and flourishing in society.

“The Mental Health Diversion graduation stands as a testament to the transformative power of collaborative efforts, compassionate support and a dedicated commitment to helping individuals with mental health issues reintegrate into society with strength and resilience,” stated Tracie Olson the public defender of Yolo County.

For more information about the MH-Div program and Yolo County Community Corrections Partnership, please visit YoloCounty.org/CCP.

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