Cuts to mental health court criticized

From judges who run them to former clients, witnesses objected Tuesday to cuts they say would effectively eliminate the mental health courts.

"We are one of the cheapest and most effective tools for dealing with people who commit crimes and are mentally ill or addicted to drugs and alcohol," said Senior Judge Peter Breen, who helped found those courts a decade ago.

He referred to Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed budget eliminating $100 million for the program as "a death sentence for our mental health courts."

Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass said the loss of the mental health courts would end up costing the state and local governments more in the long run as those patients, without treatment, commit new crimes and cause more problems.

"You're going to pay less now or you'll pay more later," she said.

Glass said Clark County won't be able to pay for those services: "This is a death sentence for the mental health courts in this state."

She was joined by several representatives from the National Association for Mental Illness who described the cuts as appalling.

Ed Guthrie of Opportunity Village in Las Vegas said that center already has a waiting list of 353 young people.

Bunchie Tyler said one example is a delusional adolescent who went into a school yard and, while attempting to teach students how to bowl, wound up injuring a pupil by hitting him with a rock. That person, she said, is now in jail facing charges.

Mark Burchett told lawmakers he was a client of the mental health court in 2004 after being arrested four times in just a month.

"You don't belong in jail but that's what's going to happen without mental health court," he said.

Burchett has since recovered and now works for the program helping others.

Jack Mays of the Nevada Disability and Advocacy Law Center said that group, which defends the rights of the mentally ill and disabled, said it is discrimination to force people into institutions for mental health services. He said that group will be closely examining the proposed reductions.


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