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NCSC Assists Judges in Convening Teams to Address Mentally Ill Individuals

Delivering justice to individuals who struggle with mental health or behavioral issues can be extraordinarily difficult.  As leaders of their courts and communities, presiding judges are well positioned to convene and engage others to solve complicated problems. With that in mind, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) recently published a practical guide to equip presiding judges in Arizona with the information they need to convene teams of court and community leaders who can systematically address individuals with mental illness.

The guide was funded by a grant from SJI to the Arizona Supreme Court.  A new grant from SJI to the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), and the NCSC will adapt the Arizona guide for use in other states, among other national activities.  This will address a recent resolution from CCJ/COSCA that urges court leaders to examine community-wide strategies to help those with mental illness.

“Knowing that the guide will be adapted for broader use is very exciting,” said Patti Tobias, NCSC principal court management consultant and one of the guide’s authors.

The Arizona guide highlights the roles that probation officers, mental health workers, police officers, public defenders and others can take to help reduce the number of people with mental illness and behavioral health issues who find themselves in the justice system.  Ms. Tobias said the NCSC team used and expanded upon the long-established Sequential Intercept Model (SIM), a framework that aims to keep individuals from continuing to penetrate the justice system.  “Arizona court leaders thought it was necessary to go beyond SIM,” she said, “because the challenges are so complex.”

Ms. Tobias and NCSC Research Director Nicole Waters interviewed 49 state and local stakeholders from across Arizona, but mostly focused on Yavapai, Pima, and Coconino counties, as requested by court leaders in the state.  Ms. Waters served as project director, assisted by Tobias and court research associate Shelley Spacek.