Allowing Circuit Solicitors to Establish Mental Health Court Programs
S.426 would permit circuit solicitors to establish mental health court programs to serve “qualifying mentally ill offenders”. Any circuit solicitor that accepts state funding to create a mental health court program would be required to establish and administer at least one such program within the circuit within 180 days of accepting the funds. The Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court would appoint all mental health court judges. Counties that already have a mental health court program due to an order issued by Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court would be unaffected by this bill.
Establishing more mental health court programs would be a positive reform, especially considering the appalling mistreatment individuals diagnosed with mental illness have suffered in South Carolina prisons. Oftentimes offenses committed by those with a history of mentally illness are symptomatic of their illness rather than malicious in nature. Imprisoning these individuals will have little effect on the root cause of such offenses and may actually exacerbate their condition. Pursuing treatment as ordered by a mental health court program is a superior investment from the perspective of the individual receiving treatment and citizens as a whole.