Offering Mental Health Treatment to Criminal Offenders Instead of Jail

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The Honorable Winston P. Bethel, Chief Magistrate of DeKalb County, discusses his work establishing the DeKalb Diversion Treatment Court (formerly called the DeKalb Mental Health Court) to provide mentally ill offenders with recovery instead of incarceration. Judge Bethel established the treatment court 2001 to incorporate Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ) into the court system in Georgia. A goal of TJ is to treat the disorders causing offenders to commit crimes instead of simply incarcerating them. With the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill beginning in the 1960’s, jails and prisons have become the repository for people who are mentally ill. Judge Bethel’s program works for the benefit of the mentally ill offenders by offering a voluntary program where, if the offenders complete the treatment program, their charges are dropped. If the participants leave the program, however, criminal cases are reactivated. The goal of the treatment court is to empower individuals to function on their own.

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