The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

April 25, 2013

Mental Health Court program making a difference


In addition to his other duties as a judge, Daily volunteered to be part of the mental health corrections team. This mental health team focuses on a maximum of 25 clients. The whole team sees every client a couple times each month. Daily, Rosenberg, a therapist, a defense attorney and a prosecutor are all present in court.

"It can mean a lot to someone if the prosecutor who prosecuted their case ... sent them to prison in their [mind] ... tells them they're glad to see the progress they're making," said Daily.

Like many offenders, those with mental illness may refuse to accept personal responsibility or may make poor decisions. A regular offender may go through life believing he went to jail because a neighbor reported his crime or because a police officer arrested him.

"So many of the people coming into the justice system have the same issues," the judge said.

Rosenberg said offenders typically have very short-term goals: I want to feel good right now. Afterward is when they worry about consequences, when it's too late. But part of this program is education. The team can spend time explaining what really seems to be getting the participant into trouble.

"I'll ask them, 'Who made that decision? Was it a good decision? Why do you think you made that decision?'" said Daily.

Rosenberg can arrange for instruction on good decision making. Their mental illness, quite possibly untreated, may get in the way of the offender's true personality. Positive strategies have to become habits, he said.

"We can't just tell them, 'Don't do that again,'" Daily agreed.

The strategy calls for less reprimanding and more encouraging.

There's praise and encouragement for doing well. And a focus on the good things in their lives because there are always ups and downs on the "roller coaster" of life, both men said. Having something positive to focus on can help avoid the feeling of hopelessness that affects some people with mental illness.

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