March 18th, 2015
Senate Judiciary Panel Passes Mental Health Courts Bill!
Yesterday was a major step for mental health reform in South Carolina! The SC Senate Judiciary Committee voted 23-0 for the Bill S.426, the Mental Health Court Program Act, to move forward to the SC House. This is a crucial piece of legislation that will help reduce the number of mentally ill individuals incarcerated in state prisons, while diverting them to appropriate mental health services. This bill passing the SC Senate yesterday was thanks to not only the efforts of Paton Blough and other mental health advocates and local politicians, but also everyone who contacted their senators to encourage them to support the Mental Health Court Program Act. Thank you for your support now and in the future as this bill moves through the legislative process!
The Senate Judiciary Committee today voted unanimously to approve a bill to expand mental health courts in the state, sending the proposal to the full Senate.
Sen. Shane Massey, an Edgefield Republican, said the bill establishes a framework for a statewide system that is already being used in several judicial circuits.
“These things have been very popular and successful in communities where they are now,” he said.
Mental health courts divert mentally ill offenders away from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs, much as drug courts do for drug offenders.
Currently, three mental health courts operate in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. Grants for their operation ran out years ago but they have continued to operate, officials say. Two other courts have closed in recent years due to lack of funding.
“I think this is a huge first step for the Senate to acknowledge mental health reform in our state,” said Paton Blough, a Greenville mental health advocate who has spent a year pushing for the legislation. “I hope this is just the beginning.”