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Rep. Currie proposes mental health bill

For the past two years, Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, has dedicated much of her legislative energy to establishing a Mississippi mental health court system. And, this year, it looks as though her hard work is paying off.

She recently proposed a bill that made its way through the committee process, and she said — if the legislation ends up on the governor’s desk — it could trigger some positive, long-term social repercussions.

“It died the first year I worked on it,” Currie said. “But we got it over to the Senate last year.”

The measure recommends creating a separate court system for people with verified mental health conditions. It would create a litigation process for the mentally ill similar to the one used in local drug courts.

“We’re sending it over to the Senate again, because the potential for saving the state money is absolutely unreal,” she said.

Instead of funneling individuals with mental health problems into county and state jails when they commit crimes, the new system would allow them to serve time at home while receiving proper treatment for their psychological conditions.

“If we can keep those people at home, keep a monitoring bracelet on their ankle, make sure they go to the doctor, etc., then we can help treat them instead of locking them away,” Currie said.

She hopes the Senate will give the mental health court measure due consideration, because similar laws have proven extremely effective in other parts of the country.

“It’s always been a no brainer for me,” Currie said. “I don’t see how people don’t realize how important something like this is.”

She modeled her bill on a Louisiana law that initially saved that state roughly $36 million in costs for anti-psychotic medications in prisons.

According to Currie, the mental health court would not cover serious crimes like rape or murder. Instead, it would deal with less injurious offenses like petit larceny or possession of narcotics.

“This bill is designed for people who get off their meds and fall into trouble with the law,” she said. “Many people who suffer from mental illness and stop taking their prescriptions wind up on drugs.”

Currie said police officers and judges often deal with the same people on a regular basis, and she believes law enforcement officials are capable of determining which perpetrators could best benefit from the new court system. And, just like with drug court, when someone serving time with the mental health court violates the conditions of their parole, they will be sent straight to jail.

“If we could treat these people and keep them going to their therapists and doctors and avoid shutting them up in cells,” Currie said. “We could not only save tax payers money, but we could also help people who are suffering from mental illness.”