Supporters hope effort will expand throughout eastern Iowa
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — A grassroots effort accomplished something that even the court system was unable to do: establish a Mental Health Court Demonstration Project in Scott County.
Led by Quad Cities Interfaith (QCI), this coalition of congregations and community groups announced June 24 that Genesis Philanthropy has donated $50,000 to help launch the demonstration project, which is now screening participants.
“Across the country, not just in Scott County, too many people with mental health conditions are being convicted of crimes and dumped behind bars when their primary need might not be incarceration, but mental health
treatment,” said Leslie Kilgannon, QCI’s director.
The one-year demonstration project has been formed in conjunction with the Seventh Judicial District of Iowa, but is available only in Scott County. Supporters hope that once the public sees the benefits of mental health court, more foundations and entities will want to help create similar projects throughout eastern Iowa and western Illinois.
“It’s a rare service and it ought not be. It ought to be available to all Iowans and all Americans, that would be our long-term goal,” said Ken Croken, vice president of corporate communications, marketing and advocacy for Genesis Health System.
He noted that Genesis Health System donated $10,000 in the form of office space on the Genesis West campus in Davenport for Transitions Mental Health Services, the agency that will coordinate the demonstration project. The Rock Island, Ill., agency already manages the mental health court in Rock Island County, which provided a template for the Scott County demonstration project.
Mental health courts work to more appropriately treat people with mental health conditions who have entered the criminal court system. The aim is to reduce the number of criminal convictions of people with mental illness and the number of those in prisons and jails.
Non-violent offenders and defendants are typically served by mental health courts and must meet other criteria for their cases to be heard in mental health court. According to a news release, compliance with requirements can result in sentences being waived or reduced to probationary periods, and criminal records can be cleared.
Just two other mental health courts operate in Iowa — one in Council Bluffs and the other in Ottumwa, Kilgannon said. Judge Mark Smith of the Seventh Judicial District, which includes Scott County, is the assigned judge for Scott County’s demonstration project. He and others in the judiciary sought to obtain a federal grant eight years ago to establish a mental health court in Scott County, but funding was awarded elsewhere. “We didn’t have the community support we have today,” Judge Smith said. “This type of specialty court is important … it can result in cost savings and improved functionality of individuals.”
Courtney Stenzel, director of residential services for Transitions, said participants in mental health court are provided with services to meet their needs and to help them be successful, such as housing, access to medication and job-seeking skills. The minimum length of participation is one year.
The states suing the federal government claimed the president went too far and was not just putting a temporary block on deportations, but giving immigrants in the country without legal permission a “lawful presence” that enabled them to qualify for Social Security and Medicare benefits.
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., who defended the government, said the “pressing human concern” was to avoid breaking up families of U.S. citizen children, something echoed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., or CLINIC, and at least three Catholic colleges, which joined in a brief with more than 75 education and children’s advocacy organizations.
When the case was argued before the high court in mid-April, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stressed that the 4 million immigrants who might be given a temporary reprieve from deportation “are living in the shadows” and “are here whether we want them or not,” adding that the government had limited resources available for deportations.
Thomas Saenz, a lawyer representing three mothers in the country without documentation who have U.S. citizen children, told the court his clients live in “daily fear that they will be separated from their families and detained or removed from their homes.”
“What we see on a diocesan level is the local effect of national and international issues,” said Kent Ferris, director of the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action
Office. “What we see and what we hear and what we feel is the experience of families who anticipate being torn apart. And those same families are friends and neighbors and also fellow parishioners across the diocese.
“This is the Year of Mercy, and mercy is experienced in relationship. It is very hard not to feel the pain of another when you know them, when you love them, when they’re your neighbors. That isn’t what is fully appreciated when people are wrestling with issues on a national level — the personal toll it takes on families.”