As I drive through the neighborhood, I see balloons celebrating college graduations. In a couple of weeks time it’ll be the high school graduates’ turn and this week also saw seven people graduate from mental health court in Savannah-Chatham here in Georgia. Just like getting an associate degree, it’s a two year program, and requires just as much stick-to-it-ness to make it through.

Calcasieu Parish’s Mental Health Court in Louisiana is involved with the national “Stepping Up” Initiative, focused on cutting the number of individuals in jails with mental illness, and you can see both the judge and one of the participants talking about the difference it is making.

The proportion of people in jails with mental illness is three to six times that of the broader population, and due to treatment costs and increased security protocols, they are two to three times as expensive to serve as the rest of the jail population. They also tend to receive longer sentences for the same charges. Mental Health Courts are an alternative to incarceration and have been proven both effective in reducing on-going contact with the criminal justice system, and cost-effective, being less expensive than traditional approaches. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) looked at seven studies to work out that the benefits outweigh costs by a factor of six. If you could find an investment like that in the stock market, everyone would want in. Better yet, the analysis shows that a Mental Health Court is 100% likely to pay for itself.

That’s important when considering how mental health services are provided and funded in the community. In Tacoma, the League of Women Voters conducted a study of the Pierce County Mental Health system, where a Mental Health Court was recently established. Find the report here.

You can learn more about Stepping Up here and find out if your county is Stepping Up to the challenge. If not, you can use the WSIPP study to help make the case, or check out the National Center for State Courts. They have a cost saving calculator that lets you see potential costs and savings from operating a mental health court at this link.

And congratulations to the graduates in Savannah! Well done!