Paragraphs 24 & 25 read: "She said she doesn�t remember the March 2009 incident that brought her to mental health court. She said she was coming off Prozac, an anti-depressant prescribed by her primary-care physician, and physically attacked her husband during a prolonged blackout."
�I guess my husband and I fought for two hours,' she said. 'I took a knife and I was going to cut the cord on our computer, b 'ecause it�s been a big issue with us with him being on the computer all the time.' She said she was told she even threatened to kill their disabled 7-year-old son by wrapping his feeding tube around his neck, though she didn�t actually hurt him."
Paragraph 27 reads: "'I have never been in trouble ever, and I don�t believe I would have ever been if this medication problem hadn�t happened,' Lightfoot said. 'I guess I was an accident waiting to happen. … I believe they thought I would benefit more from the program they had than to be locked down'.�
Muskegon County mental health court gives offenders second chance
December 16, 2009, 10:05PM
Chronicle/Megan LangeMuskegon County 60th District Judge Maria Ladas Hoopes reviews Janna Petersen's case with attorney Belinda Barbier after Petersen's participation in a pilot jail-diversion program. A selected group of misdemeanor criminal defendants with mental-health issues has been offered the option of probation with close supervision. The program requires counseling and other therapy and, where appropriate, psychiatric medication. That option is in lieu of a jail sentence.For Carol Lightfoot of Norton Shores it began with a nightmarish, two-hour burst of violent rage she can�t remember having, leading to the 47-year-old�s first-ever arrest.
For 24-year-old Dominique Rogers of Muskegon Heights the trigger was an impulsive shoplifting incident at the Henry Street Walmart, resulting in her third misdemeanor conviction in five years.
Both women, and more than 20 other people so far, wound up not in jail but in an alternative program of Muskegon County�s 60th District Court, informally called �mental health court.�
The pilot program is a collaboration between Judge Maria Ladas Hoopes, district court�s probation office and Community Mental Health of Muskegon County.
Since January, a selected group of misdemeanor criminal defendants with mental-health issues has been offered the option of a term of probation that involves closer-than-usual supervision, regular contact with the judge and requirements that they participate in counseling and other therapy and, where appropriate, take psychiatric medication. That option is in lieu of a jail sentence.
The goal: �Getting them mental-health treatment so that, primarily, the public is protected, because individuals are receiving the treatment that they need so they don�t commit criminal offenses,� Ladas Hoopes said.
ced for a bond violation, operating a vehicle while intoxicated and retail fraud. Shyne qualifies for the alternative program of Muskegon County�s 60th District Court, After serving time in jail, he will begin intensive counseling through Hackley LIfe Counseling.
Both Lightfoot and Rogers have �graduated� from the program. That means they�ve successfully completed probation with no further violations. Several months later, both women say they are continuing with counseling on their own and feel they�re doing well, much better than before their experience with the court.
How the program works
�Mental health court� is less structured than 60th District�s other special-purpose court, Sobriety Court. There�s no grant funding, no staff assigned exclusively to the program, no state certification with formal training for participants. Technically, Ladas Hoopes says, that makes it a �mental health docket� rather than a full-fledged mental health court � although all involved use the latter label.
The judge prefers the informality, at least for the time being. �It has been essentially my choice at this point to try it at a pilot level without having to bring in grants,� Ladas Hoopes said. She�d rather avoid the administrative strings that come with state or federal funding. �If you do grants, it might take away my ability to be as involved as I am,� she said.
As it is, the judge stays heavily involved.
She picks the defendants deemed likeliest to benefit from the program, normally those recommended by Deborah Smith, CMH�s jail diversion coordinator. The selection happens at sentencing after a defendant has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor � the less-serious crimes that district court handles, such as retail fraud, some domestic violence cases, marijuana possession or small larcenies. The defendant � who has to have been professionally diagnosed with a serious mental-health condition � is offered the choice of either a jail sentence, or probation with participation in mental health court as a condition.
Ladas Hoopes said the court�s participants tend to fall in two main categories: those in their 40s or 50s, like Carol Lightfoot, with no criminal history who suddenly begin committing crimes after problems arise in their mental-health treatment; and younger defendants like Dominique Rogers, with a series of misdemeanor convictions and a history of jail terms that don�t deter them from reoffending.
The judge follows up with periodic case reviews, something that doesn�t happen with most probationers. She gets regular reports from CMH, with Smith acting as the intermediary, on whether the defendants are complying with their treatment programs � taking medication, going to counseling, attending anger management classes or substance-abuse treatment or whatever has been prescribed by their psychiatrists or psychologists.
Rich Chambers, a 60th District Court probation officer, handles all the mental-health-court cases. He estimates he sees the participants roughly twice a month, slightly more often than most of his probationers. Chambers sees the court as a positive influence. �The more you have contacts with people, the more they do well,� he said. �And the more resources you have available for clients, the better for them.�
Another benefit the probation officer sees is the regular communication on behalf of a client among himself, CMH and the judge. �You�re all working on the same page,� Chambers said. �It�s a good thing, rather than guessing what the other agencies are doing.�
The 20 or so mental health court participants show up in the courtroom at the same time for case reviews, usually every three or four weeks on a Friday afternoon. Ladas Hoopes, from the bench, reviews each of the cases one at a time.
At a session Dec. 4, Ladas Hoopes� manner varied from stern to kindly, depending on circumstances.
�It�s a big step for you,� she said to one young woman on probation for pet
ty theft, now fully complying with her treatment program. �I remember when you came in here six months ago, your mom threw her hands up. … Well, congratulations to you. I�m happy that you�re moving in the right direction.�
But another defendant, a man convicted of assault and battery, had been refusing to attend substance-abuse treatment appointments. Ladas Hoopes ordered him to report for arraignment at a later date for violating probation, with jail a possible outcome.
And two of the participants, nearing the end of their probation terms without a violation, were �graduated.� That involved a brief ceremony of sorts, with a court bailiff taking a snapshot of the judge with the graduate, and the judge handing each graduate a certificate and a candy bar.
Works in progress
Chronicle/Megan LangeChristopher Rohm smiles after being discharged from probation. Rohm participated in a pilot jail-diversion program that works with some misdemeanor criminal defendants diagnosed with mental illness. The pilot program is a collaboration between Hoopes, district court�s probation office and Community Mental Health of Muskegon County.In the nearly a year the court�s been in existence, Ladas Hoopes has found the work rewarding. In some cases, �it is very gratifying because you literally see a physical transformation that occurs relatively quickly � not only a behavioral transformation but a physical transformation,� Ladas Hoopes said. �Often these folks come in and they�re disheveled,� then, within a few months, after consistent treatment, they look and act like a different person.
Carol Lightfoot �graduated� in October after successfully completing six months on probation for first-offense domestic violence, which left her with no conviction record. Michigan law permits that in first-offense spousal abuse cases when the defendant complies with treatment.
She said she doesn�t remember the March 2009 incident that brought her to mental health court. She said she was coming off Prozac, an anti-depressant prescribed by her primary-care physician, and physically attacked her husband during a prolonged blackout.
�I guess my husband and I fought for two hours,� she said. �I took a knife and I was going to cut the cord on our computer, because it�s been a big issue with us with him being on the computer all the time.� She said she was told she even threatened to kill their disabled 7-year-old son by wrapping his feeding tube around his neck, though she didn�t actually hurt him.
She said she was hurt when thrown to the floor in the fight with her husband, went to the hospital first and from there was taken to jail by police. She spent a night in jail, then began reporting to CMH and entered mental health court after her sentencing in April. As conditions of her probation, she continued counseling, went to anger management classes and was prescribed, and took, appropriate anti-depression medication.
�I have never been in trouble ever, and I don�t believe I would have ever been if this medication problem hadn�t happened,� Lightfoot said. �I guess I was an accident waiting to happen. … I believe they thought I would benefit more from the program they had than to be locked down.�
Today, she said in an interview this week, she still participates in counseling, including joint counseling with her husband, and takes her medication. She�s working at a McDonald�s restaurant and just got a raise.
Chronicle/Megan LangeMuskegon County District Judge Maria Ladas Hoopes congratulates Janna Petersen after Petersen's graduation from a pilot jail-diversion program. She credits the court and CMH for turning her life around. �They seem to know how to get you going in the right direction,� she said.
For Dominique Rogers, court records show 2004 and 2007 convictions for shoplifting and vandalism, followed by the 2008 Walmart shoplifting that eventually landed her in mental health court.
Rogers said she has a history of bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder.
�I�ve had a history of these type of episodes, where I get depressed and do things I know I shouldn�t do,� Rogers said. �That program really helped me and taught me, the law is the law, you can�t break it, and no one is above it. … You don�t want to mess with that and lose your freedom, because no amount of craziness is going to stop you from the law.�
Rogers �graduated� in July and continues in treatment with CMH. She is caring for a 3-year-old daughter and coping with the recent stillbirth of a second child. Despite the stresses and the tragedy, �I still haven�t gone back to trying to do wrong things,� Rogers said. �I�m just having a better life now.�
CMH�s Smith said both women are doing well, much better than before their commitment to mental health court.
Chambers, the probation agent, sees the court as giving its participants a choice.
�We get them pointed in the right direction and show them, �this is the lifestyle you�re going to be leading. You can go that way, or go back the way you were going, and possibly wind up in jail.� �
�I think it gives this population a chance to get on the right path with their life,� said Pam Beane, admissions and utilization manager for CMH. �Before we had this, these individuals would get caught in the legal system, and it�s very difficult for them to get out of it. This program gives them another chance to start again fresh.�
E-mail John S. Hausman at firstname.lastname@example.org