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Hays County’s Mental Health Court gets funding to expand program for people accused of crimes

The statute of Lady Liberty at the top of a dome
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
A program in Hays County provides mental health services to people charged with misdemeanor crimes.

Hays County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to put more federal grant money toward a program that provides mental health services to people facing misdemeanor charges.

The Mental Health Court is a 12-month program that Hays County created in 2019. It works as an alternative to jail in criminal misdemeanor and felony cases where mental health issues may have played a role in an arrest.

Participants are offered counseling and rehabilitation services and, in turn, some can get their charges dismissed. MHC Administrator Kaimi Mattila said graduating from the program can put people who don't get charges dismissed in a better place for housing and employment.

Mattila said the MHC looked to commissioners to expand the program and will now be able to provide free counseling services for those without insurance.

The MHC hadn't been operational for years but started to take cases after a few administrative positions were filled last summer.

“We target people that are falling through the cracks and that really need support and need treatment," Mattila said.

Since Mattila was hired earlier this year, the program has admitted nine participants; the first two will graduate in the fall.

To enter the program, an individual must get a referral from a family member, court official or attorney. Candidates must be over 17 and diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

The MHC primarily accepts people who live in Hays County; however, Mattila said, nonresidents who have been charged with a crime in Hays could also apply to be admitted.

The program is divided into three stages that take place over a year. During the first stage, the staff helps support the individual through counseling and medication, if prescribed.

The second and third stages offer social and rehabilitation skills; participants are coached on how to think before they act and resolve problems without illegal activity or substance use.

Mattila said current MHC participants are getting help with sobriety, volunteering, working, going to college and "achieving mental wellness."

“I'm so proud of not only the progress of the core participants and the success of the program," she said, "but also delighted to see the receptiveness and collaboration of the community to address mental health.”

Mattila said 30 to 35 people will likely participate in the program by the end of the year.

Maya Fawaz is KUT's Hays County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at mfawaz@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @mayagfawaz.
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