Testimony in Support of SB 1370 – Creating Mental Health Treatment Courts

Date: February 26, 2024
To: Sen. Tony Leutkemeyer, and members of the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal 

Jurisprudence Committee
From: Gwen Smith, Criminal Justice Policy Manager, Empower Missouri
Re: Our support for SB 1370

Founded in 1901, Empower Missouri advocates for the well-being of Missourians through civic leadership, education, and research. As part of our work, we organize a statewide Community Justice Coalition with the goal of decreasing recidivism, decreasing the prison population, and decreasing Missouri’s criminal justice costs all while ensuring our communities are safe. Many coalition members are formerly incarcerated or have currently incarcerated loved ones, and all are connected by a vision for a future without mass incarceration. 

We support Senator Black’s SB 1370 and the creation of mental health treatment courts. Mental health treatment courts offer an effective approach to addressing the complex intersection of mental health issues and the criminal justice system. These courts prioritize rehabilitation over punishment for individuals with mental health conditions. One of the primary benefits of mental health treatment courts is the focus on providing offenders with access to comprehensive psychiatric treatment, counseling, and support services. This approach not only addresses the underlying mental health issues but also aims to reduce recidivism by equipping individuals with the tools and resources needed to lead stable and productive lives, according to the American Conservative Unions’ Nolan Center for Justice. By diverting eligible participants from the traditional criminal justice process to specialized treatment programs, these courts help alleviate the burden on prisons and jails, which are often ill-equipped to provide appropriate mental health care. 

Additionally, mental health treatment courts foster an environment where judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, mental health professionals, and social service providers work together to create personalized treatment plans for participants. This multidisciplinary approach ensures that the specific needs of each individual are met, promoting better outcomes for participants and their communities. The emphasis on ongoing supervision, treatment compliance, and accountability encourages participants to take active roles in their recovery processes. By addressing mental health issues within a supportive and structured legal framework, mental health treatment courts contribute to public safety and community well-being, while also acknowledging the dignity and potential of individuals with mental health conditions. Through these efforts, mental health treatment courts exemplify a compassionate and effective model for reducing the intersection of mental illness and criminal behavior, offering a hopeful path forward for individuals and society alike. 

The specific circumstances surrounding a person with mental illness require specific responses and solutions. That is what is offered in SB1370. We encourage a ‘yes’ vote on this bill that will make a measurable difference in Missouri’s criminal justice system. 

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