Mental Illness Defined: A Roadblock to Mental Health Court
Twenty years ago, mental health courts were all but non-existent. In fact, in 1997, there were as few as four mental health courts in the United States. Today, the number of mental health court programs in the United States has grown to over 300, and Nevada is no exception.
Ideologically, mental health courts seek to link offenders whose only alternative would be time in prison to long-term community-based treatment. Mental health court programs often include mental health assessments and individualized treatment plans in conjunction with judicial monitoring. The theory goes that community-based treatment will address the needs of offenders as well as public safety concerns of communities. Mental health courts, like other “problem solving courts” such as drug courts and domestic violence courts seek to resolve the underlying problems that contribute to criminal behavior. Here in Nevada, our mental health court program requires an application under which offenders must meet certain criteria set out in NRS 433.164.
NRS 433.164 defines “mental illness” as a clinically significant disorder of thought, mood, perception, orientation, memory, or behavior which (1) is recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) and (2) seriously limits the capacity of a person to function in the primary aspects of daily living, including personal relations, living arrangements, employment and recreation.
This definition of mental illness makes it all but impossible for offenders who need treatment to qualify for treatment in Nevada’s mental health courts. For example, assume that Offender A suffers from bi-polar disorder, and seeks psychiatric care as well as counseling. As a result, Offender A maintains a household and employment. Then, one day, Offender A begins suffering from a particularly difficult bout of depression as a result of his or her bi-polar diagnosis, and as a result, winds up committing a crime. Further assume that Offender A has no prior criminal history. In 2018, there is an overwhelming segment of the criminal justice community as well as the psychological, psychiatric, and medical community who could all agree that Offender A, who has no prior criminal history and has evidence on ongoing mental health treatment, is best suited for mental health court, not prison. Yet, under NRS 433.164, Offender A will likely not qualify to participate in Nevada’s mental health court program because Offender A’s “clinically significant disorder” did not prevent him or her from conducting the functions of daily living.
He Or She Maintains A Household And Employment Will Disqualify
Essentially, if someone who suffers from a mental health disorder learns to function in society with his or her disorder, then most likely, the very fact that he or she maintains a household and employment will disqualify them from mental health court if he or she ever commits a crime.
Though there is no doubt that Nevada’s mental health court is a tremendous resource the few who are selected to participate, the overwhelming number of offenders who need mental health services are denied access because the plain language of NRS 433.164 excludes the majority of applicants.
If the state is serious about providing mental health services instead of prison time to those who suffer from mental health disorders, Nevada needs to reevaluate how it defines mental illness.
Under the state’s current definition of mental illness, Nevada has created a system that seeks to link offenders with community-based treatments while simultaneously excluding persons who were already benefitting from community-based treatments prior to committing what is often their first and only criminal offense. As a result, many offenders find themselves facing fines, probation, and even incarceration.
The attorneys at The Wright Law Group, P.C. have more than 25 years of experience helping clients navigate these types of complexities in the criminal justice system. If you are facing criminal charges, call us today. Our attorneys are well equipped to assist you. Please call us at 702-405-0001. Our consultations are always free and confidential.