RD592 - Virginia Behavioral Health Dockets 2020 Annual Report – December 1, 2020

Executive Summary:

Behavioral Health dockets are modeled after drug court dockets and were developed in response to the overrepresentation of individuals with behavioral health disorders in the criminal justice system. Such programs aim to divert eligible defendants with diagnosed mental health disorders into judicially supervised, community-based treatment, designed and implemented by a team of court staff and mental health professionals. These programs are distinguished by several unique elements: a problem-solving focus, team approach to decision making, integration of social services, judicial supervision of the treatment process, direct interaction between defendants and the judge, community outreach, and a proactive role for the judge. Through voluntary admission, eligible defendants are invited to participate in the Behavioral Health dockets following a specialized screening and assessment. For those who agree to the terms and conditions of community-based supervision, a team of program and treatment professionals work together to develop service plans and supervise participants. Preliminary research, although still very limited, demonstrates that Behavioral Health docket participants tend to have lower rates of criminal activity and increased linkages to treatment services when compared to defendants with mental illnesses who go through the traditional court system. Together, these resources, coupled with community supervision, lower the likelihood of criminal activity among docket participants when compared to those who go through the traditional court system.

Understanding the Behavioral Health docket means recognizing there are multiple options available for improving the court’s response to defendants with behavioral health issues. In Virginia, these specialized dockets are designed to fulfill a local need utilizing local resources. A circuit, district, or juvenile and domestic relations court that intends to establish one or more behavioral health dockets must petition the Supreme Court of Virginia for authorization prior to initiating the operation of the docket.

Both the Behavioral Health Docket application and standards incorporate the Essential Elements of a Mental Health Court(*2), which include the following components:

1. Planning and Administration

2. Target Population

3. Timely Participant Identification and Linkage to Services

4. Terms of Participation

5. Informed Choice

6. Treatment Supports and Services

7. Confidentiality

8. Docket Team

9. Monitoring Adherence to Docket Requirements

10. Sustainability

In November 2017, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center convened the “50-State Summit on Public Safety" in Washington, D.C. to help teams from each state learn more about criminal justice system trends and the latest best practices in the field. Each state team included representatives from law enforcement, behavioral health, corrections and the legislature. Virginia was represented by Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25th), Senator Charles Carrico (R-40th), Virginia Department of Corrections Director, Harold Clarke, and Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney, Michael Herring. The Virginia contingent expressed an interest in using a Justice Reinvestment approach. The Center for Behavioral Health and Justice operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) was created in 2016 by Executive Order. The Center for Behavioral Health and Justice was a center of excellence in the Commonwealth of Virginia designed to address the evolving changes that exist in coordinating and collaborating across the behavioral health and criminal justice systems.3 The Executive Order establishing the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice has not yet been re-authorized. As a result, the work of the Center is transitioning to DBHDS’s Office of Forensic Services and partner agencies. OES staff attended a curriculum facilitators’ training in 2012 for the CSG’s Developing a Mental Health Interdisciplinary Curriculum. OES staff has reached out to DBHDS’s Office of Forensic Services staff to train their designated staff as a co-facilitator for this Curriculum.
(*2) Essential Elements of Mental Health Courts were developed as part of a technical assistance program provided by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center through the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Mental Health Courts Program. The BJA Mental Health Courts Program, which was authorized by America’s Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project (Public Law 106-515), provided grants to support the development of mental health courts in 23 jurisdictions in FY 2002 and 14 jurisdictions in FY 2003. The Justice Center currently provides technical assistance to the grantees of BJA’s Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program, the successor to the Mental Health Courts Program.