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Ohio Seeks Justice in Mental Health 12-26-00

The Associated Press

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - The city is opening the state's first mental health court, seeking to dole out more treatment than punishment to the mentally ill.

As of Jan. 2, defendants with a documented history of mental illness may forgo contesting charges against them in favor of entering a two-year treatment program. The charges would be dropped upon program completion.

``Jail is not meant to be a treatment setting and is not the ideal place for the mentally ill,'' said Dr. Mark Munetz, a psychiatrist with the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board.

A 1998 federal study showed about 16 percent of inmates are mentally ill. In Summit County, where Akron is located, about 9 percent of mentally ill individuals end up in jail, Munetz said.

The program is aimed at people repeatedly arrested for minor crimes while not taking their prescribed medications. Participants will be monitored by a probation officer and will be required to appear regularly before a judge.

Advocates say the $300,000 cost to start the court is a worthwhile investment.

``This will move mentally ill people out of jail more quickly and reduce costs throughout the system with a more appropriate treatment,'' Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer said.

AP-NY-12-26-00 0637EST


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