Mental health court stuck: 'You're dealing with a different breed of person'

YAKIMA, Wash.-- It's a program intended to help felons get their lives on track and save you money. Yakima County's mental health court started months ago. But, KIMA learned not a single person is enrolled. Yakima County's mental health court has been up and running for months now. It hasn't exactly been running as planned. The idea was to put ten participants in the program. Only one enrolled and then dropped out almost immediately.

KIMA asked Prosecuting Attorney Jim Hagarty if he thought the program was failing.

"No, no," he said. "I think it's, I think one of it is you know, you're dealing with a different breed of person."

That breed of person is a felon willing to seek help. They also must not be a danger to society. Treating mental illness with this program could include therapy and medication. The county was hopeful after the success of drug and DUI court. Those have seen a decrease in re-offenders and Yakima wants the same thing for mental health patients.

"Rather than have to commit crimes, they know that they can cope by saying 'okay, I need to call my counselor, I need to stay on my medication,'" Hagarty said.

He thinks his office could take another look at finding the right participants.

"Maybe we can do a little better job at selling the program, identifying the program for these people," he said.

Jack Maris works at Comprehensive Mental Health and is a partner in the program. Jack says he was optimistic for his patients when mental health court started. He feels stuck after the last month.

KIMA asked Maris if he is disappointed with the slow start to the program.

"Obviously when you start a program you want it to get going as quickly as possible," he said.

Both tell me a slower start is safer than allowing violent, unstable offenders out of jail just to have someone in the program.

Two new people are now being considered for Mental Health Court. Prosecutors will meet to advertise the program better. They're also considering involving district court and misdemeanor offenses besides felons.