Yakima County Mental Health Court begins with one participant

Yakima County Mental Health Court begins with one participant
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima County's Mental Health Court has had a little trouble getting out of the gate. Managers wanted 10 prisoners in the pilot program. Right now, there's only one signed up to get treatment and live outside of jail.

It's supposed to help prisoners and save you money at the same time. Prisoners with mental illness can get treatment and live outside of jail. But, it's not a get out of jail free card.

"This isn't going to be for just anyone," said Yakima County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty. "This is not a ticket out of the door without requirements and obligations."

One requirement is to simply show up in court every week. Of the three suggested participants, only one has officially joined the program.

"A lot of the problem will be getting the right people in," said Hagarty.

"We want the right people for this," said Jack Meris, Senior Vice President for Clincal Servies at Comprehensive Mental Health in Yakima. "We want to see people succeed."

The right people are hard to come by. Organizers decided to include felons in the program instead of misdemeanor offenders. However, they say they won't accept anyone considered too violent who might jeopardize your safety.

"A number of those people have assaulted officers on the street or been in a facility and assaulted a nurse, physician," said Hagarty.

Yakima County's program is modeled after a similar one in Spokane County. But, there are differences. Spokane won't put felons through the system.

Over the past several years, 70% of participants who went through the Spokane County Mental Health Court have not re-offended. A goal Yakima County intends to reach -- even if it takes a while.

Organizers say they now hope to have 10 participants within three to four months.

The one inmate in the program will likely be released into the community as early as tomorrow.