General Sessions Court Judge Lila Statom on Monday touted the value of mental health court, saying it can save taxpayers money and improve the lives of many with mental issues.
A rather new creation (the County Commission began funding it in 2017), Judge Statom oversees misdemeanor mental health cases in General Sessions Court. Meanwhile, Criminal Court Judge Don Poole handles felony mental health cases.
“ If you have not yet had a diagnosed mental illness, we will have you evaluated to see if you're eligible,” said Judge Statom, who dispelled notions that anyone who claimed to have a mental illness would get into mental health court. “For the most part, the people we admit into the program have insight into their mental illness.”
Judge Statom emphasized the financial ramifications of mental health court. According to the judge, every day an inmate spends in custody costs Hamilton County taxpayers anywhere between $89 to $150. Mental health court helps mentally unhealthy people out of custody.
“People who are mentally ill tend to be in custody at least 10 times longer than those who are not mentally ill,” said Judge Statom. “Anyone who we can get into mental health court saves all of us as taxpayers a lot of money.”
She told the club the people in mental health court often have very serious mental issues.
“Most people I have in court are schizophrenic and bipolar,” said Judge Statom. “Most of them, before someone intervened, have been off their medication for years. A high percentage of them are homeless.”
While in mental health court, defendants are required to come to court every week, while also meeting with their case worker and living in a group home. If they do well, the defendant can slowly distance themselves from the court. They will be allowed to come to mental health court once every other week, and then once a month, and then not at all while also moving away from the group home.
After saying that many in mental health court are drug users, the judge was asked about her opinion on marijuana, and its possible legalization and status as an alleged “gateway drug.”
“There are people who tell me it’s about to be legalized in the state of Tennessee,” said Judge Statom. “I have my thoughts because the THC (and sometimes fentanyl) levels are so high in marijuana now. I’m not personally in favor of it, but there are mid-areas that you could come to in terms of medical reasons.”
When asked what could be done to stop people from falling into a life of crime, Judge Statom said a good childhood was essential. She believes that a person’s childhood experiences could shape the rest of their life, and having a good mentor during this period of time could be beneficial.
“This sounds kind of silly, but if we could find a place to fit in and mentor somebody in our lives that may only help one person or child, but it could make a difference,” said Judge Statom.