First ever Mental Health Court graduation at Scott County Jail

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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Three young men have become the first ever graduates of Scott County Jail's Mental Health Court.
The program has been up and running for three years and it can take up to three years for someone to complete. Mental Health Court is available to both males and females who mental health issues appear to be a main factor in their brush in with the law. And the program is geared towards helping them regain control of their life and stay out of jail.
“About 17 months ago I was in a situation where I was in and out of the hospital and I tried killing myself,” says Keith Donahue.
Keith is among the first three people to graduate from Mental Health Court as Scott County Jail.
"I honestly believe I would be dead right now if I was not in this program," he adds.
Keith was planning another attempt with an illegal drug when was pulled over and charged with possession
“I have gratitude towards the officer who charged me. Because if it for wasn't him doing his job the way he should. If he just saw it was another guy with mental illness and not worth charging him I wouldn't have gotten the help that I have,” say Donahue.
It's a program that was officially launched three years ago, but has been nearly a decade in the making.
"Scott County Jail is the biggest mental health facility in the county if not the district,” says Judge Mark Smith of the 7th Judicial District. Judge Smith is also the Mental Health Court Judge. He says this is exactly why the court, law enforcement, mental health services, Quad City Interfaith and many others came together to create an option other than jail, for people with mental health needs who commit crimes
“Probably well over 30 community partners and even outside of the direct Quad Cities,” says Courtney Stenzel Program Coordinator for Mental Health Court. Stenzel works for Transitions, a mental health service providers that is a key component of the program.
Throughout this graduation ceremony it is clear how closely law enforcement, mental health service providers, Scott county Jail and Court work with those enrolled in the Mental Health Court program.
Anecdotes inside jokes and laughs are shared, the kinds that can only be shared with someone you’ve mentored and watched grow as they approach their graduation.
“It’s an opportunity for people with severe mental illness who have struggled with crime, maybe because of their mental illness to get their record clean. And focusing on their mental illness to get better,” says Dr. Paul Elias, Program Coordinator Scott County Jail.
Program leaders say they’ve learned through experience alone that Mental Health Court doesn’t work for every mental health issue. They say it works best for ones where medicine can help to stabilize the individual as they slowly introduce real world tasks and challenges giving each future graduate the tools and skills they need to succeed independently.
Donahue credits Mental Health Court with helping him get his life back.
“When the onset of my mental illness started I stopped being able to work in my field. I worked as a social worker. And then after the onset started I couldn't take care of myself let alone help others. And now I'm still not working in my field but I'm happy and healthy and I never thought of mental something as something you could be in recovery with, but it is,” says Donahue.
All 17 men and women currently enrolled in Mental Health Court including the three graduates have stable housing and jobs.
There have been 32 people in the program so far but many have left the program and Mental Health Court says they consider themselves to have around a 52% success rate. But they say this program has cut expenses by $367,000. And all of the people currently enrolled in the program have refrained from committing new crimes
“When we get them on their medication and they continue on that medication and go see their doctor along with therapy and the skill building that we do that allows them to focus on what they need to do and day to day life,” says Dr. Elias.
As each graduate heads into the world with the tools and lessons gained in Mental Health Court. Some say the real challenge is just beginning. But those involved with the Mental Health Court remind their graduates that they’re just a phone call or email away, no matter what. And they gift each graduate with a plaque and keychain. On the back of the keychain is an engraving, “only you can choose your direction"