Court Created To Help Mentally Ill Juvenile Offenders

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Mental Health has been talked about more than ever and Richland County is trying to fix the problem at a young age with a new Juvenile Mental Heath court.

Two years ago 880 juveniles stood in a Richland County courtroom and 160 of them were diagnosed with a mental illness.

"The juveniles going through our family court and the justice system show a great need for mental health treatment. The latest statistic is about one third of the juvenile's going through our system have a diagnosed mental illness," said Judge Amy McCullough.

McCullough says for years there wasn't a system in place to specifically focus on how to deal with juveniles that commit crimes and have mental health problems.

In 2003 the county created an adult mental health court and now they see the need for a juvenile court.

"If I had a child and he was acting out because of a mental illness there are very few options in our community to get the treatment that is necessary."

County council recently provided funding to create a juvenile court and Chief Justice Jean Toal gave an administrative order giving the county the jurisdiction and authority to act on such cases.

The court will take cases referred to them by a family court judge.

"That's when we will take over as a treating team of individuals to make sure the families have a good education about mental illness, make the child understand the illness, helping them maintain medication compliance, therapy, family counseling. "

Bill Lindsey, Executive Director for NAMI- The national Alliance on Mental Illness says that this new court will make a big difference because sending someone to jail isn't always the best decision.

"We've just seen a tremendous improvement with getting people the treatment that they need without having them incarcerated and being able to go forward with a juvenile side of this will reap those same kind of benefits," said Lindsey.

McCullough says its all about recognizing the problem and educating the public.

"Early intervention, early diagnosis can make that child's life completely different," said McCullough.

The court will start taking referrals on July 1st.


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