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Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville could soon roll out a new program for a specific group of convicted people with mental health disabilities.
The program has been approved by the Virginia Supreme Court, and now it just has to jump over one final hurdle.
Nonviolent misdemeanor offenders with mental health concerns could be eligible for this new Therapeutic Docket program, if it continues to be greenlighted.
Following the Virginia Supreme Court’s approval, the program now awaits funding from Charlottesville City Council. Albemarle County supervisors have already approved funding for the docket - about $60,000 - but that funding's allocation relies on matching funds from the city.
"Incarcerating every nonviolent offender who presents with a mental health issue is a very simple solution to a very complex problem," says Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci.
Tracci says it's time for Charlottesville and Albemarle to stop taking the easy way out, and that this program aims to limit the number of mental health patients in jail.
“What we need to do is identify those individuals who are nonviolent, whose mental health issue is directly attributable in some material way to the underlying criminal activity, divert those individuals into a therapeutic mental health docket to get them the treatment they deserve,” says Tracci.
Under the program, the person would agree to plead guilty to his or her offense and then he or she would be put into a supervised mental health treatment center - like Region Ten - and their charge would be suspended or dismissed.
"That reduces on incarceration expenses, it also promotes public safety and ensures that these people are not placing an inordinate burden on the criminal justice system," says Tracci.
Ultimately, the city or county's commonwealth's attorney will hold veto power over allowing anyone into the program if he or she could potentially pose a threat.
Tracci says this is a collective effort that is supported by the public defender, law enforcement, the commonwealth's attorneys, and mental health professionals.
Charlottesville is expected to discuss matching the county's funding for this program at its budget forum on Wednesday, March 28, and at its budget work session on Thursday.