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Pilot court program to mandate mental health treatment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — District Court in Albuquerque is launching a pilot program that will let judges oversee and mandate outpatient treatment for certain individuals with severe mental illnesses.

Leaders from the city, county, the University of New Mexico Hospital and 2nd Judicial District Court announced the new Assisted Outpatient Treatment Pilot Program at a news conference Thursday.

The pilot program, funded by the city, will work with up to 20 individuals who have shown difficulty engaging in voluntary treatment. They will be referred to the program by UNMH psychiatrists, often shortly after hospitalization, when the person is stable.

“The idea is to engage at that moment with a judge and to imbue them with a sense that there are expectations that they are going to follow a treatment plan,” Brian Stettin, a policy director for the Treatment Advocacy Center in Virginia, said during the news conference. He added that the program relies on a judge’s power to assure people that their situation is being monitored and that the court has expectations of them.

For a person to be included in the program, there must be sufficient evidence that he or she needs court monitoring in order to safely function in the community. Each participant’s plan is individualized and developed in consultation with the patient, and may include therapy and medication.

Mayor Richard Berry said such programs have been shown to reduce hospitalization, arrests, homelessness, victimization and violent behavior associated with mental illness.

Berry said the city will offer $250,000 to pilot the program in the 2nd Judicial District Court. Of that, $92,000 will pay for a new court administrator to oversee the program, and $132,000 will fund legal representation for those in the program.

The program comes nearly two years after the passage of legislation commonly known as Kendra’s Law, which gave the courts the power to order people diagnosed with mental illness into mandatory treatment programs for up to one year.