It’s no secret that people with mental illnesses are overrepresented in the U.S. Criminal Justice System. During my time as a prosecutor, I saw on a daily basis how defendants with mental health issues struggle to navigate their way through and out of the penal system. Specialty courts offer an alternative venue to tailor processing and sentences to help address the root causes beneath crimes committed. Studies of specialty courts for mental health and addiction have repeatedly found these programs reduce criminal recidivism and provide more humane outcomes for offenders with mental illness and addiction problems.

Yet as I write this, the 45th District is the only Behavioral Health and Wellness court in Oakland County.

Mental health courts generally share the following goals: to improve public safety by reducing criminal recidivism; to improve the quality of life of people with mental illnesses and increase their participation in effective treatment; and to reduce court- and corrections-related costs. Since 2017, the 45th District court — Oak Park, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, and Royal Oak Township — has had a partnership with Oakland County Community Health Network to assist probationers who are Oakland County residents with mental health and other treatment needs in its Mental Health Treatment Court.

The 45th District has now expanded that program to include a partnership with Detroit Wayne Integrated Health and can now accept residents of Wayne County into its Behavioral Health and Wellness Court. This specialty court employs the use of a team that includes a judge, representatives from the local prosecutor’s office, police departments, a defense attorney, a community advocate and a clinical liaison. The team meets biweekly and participants receive coordinated care for a treatment plan involving therapy, mental health services, treatment for addiction, medication, life skills, support groups and legal advice.

Our Behavioral Health and Wellness Court is also unique in that many of the costs — typically incurred by the participant in a probationer or sobriety court — are paid for within the program. Often the benefit of sobriety court is offered only to those who can afford it oversight fees, tether fees, testing fees, etc. In the 45th District Court, participants in the Behavioral Health and Wellness Court are not excluded for lack of ability to pay. The team works to find testing sites within proximity to the participant and covers the cost of drug and alcohol testing, as well as GPS and alcohol tether if needed by the participant.

The 45th District Court is also home to a Veterans Treatment Court, which is run by Judge Michelle Friedman Appel. The Court promotes sobriety, recovery and stability through a coordinated response that involves collaboration with traditional partners found in drug courts and mental health courts, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration, and state Department of Veterans Affairs, volunteer mentors — and organizations that support veterans and veterans’ families.

The pandemic has created opportunities and the necessity to reexamine everything from remote work to food access. The criminal justice system is no different, especially as jails are overcrowded and dockets are stalled in many courts. Now, more than ever, is the time for Oakland County — in the 45th District and hopefully beyond — to utilize problem-solving courts with community-based treatment and care to make our communities safer for everyone.

The Honorable Jaimie Horowitz serves as Chief Judge Pro Tem in the 45th District Court. Prior to joining the court, Jame was Special Prosecutor for the Fair Michigan Justice Project, appointed by Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy to prosecute hate crimes. She trained law enforcement in prosecuting hate crimes, on improving community relations and served as a SpecialAssistant Attorney General handling select cold case homicides. She worked as an Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor from 20004 to 2016.