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Calley's legislation would create juvenile mental health courts

Sentinel-Standard - 12/14/2018

Dec. 12--LANSING -- Three bills sponsored by State Rep. Julie Calley, designed to create specialized juvenile mental health courts in Michigan, were unanimously approved by the Michigan House of Representatives last Wednesday.

House bills 5806, 5807 and 5808 now move to the Michigan Senate for consideration on Tuesday.

The proposed specialty courts would help juvenile offenders dealing with mental health issues receive proper treatment as they go through the court system. It would be the same type of service already provided for adult offenders in Michigan.

"Often times we're looking at individuals who are undiagnosed, or individuals who have been diagnosed and are not treated properly," Calley said. "A lot of mental health issues can be helped with prescriptions, but when they go off prescription, they run into struggles."

The idea for a juvenile mental health court system actually came from the Mental Health Jail Diversion Council, created by Gov. Rick Snyder. Once Calley heard of the council's idea, she jumped on board to help create the legislation.

In addition to providing potentially life-changing help for young offenders, the courts would be essentially cost-free.

"Specialty courts are funded through grants from the state," Calley said. "Funds are set aside in the budget, but we don't have enough to use all of the funds. Establishing the juvenile mental health courts would not be an additional financial burden."

Calley said counties would be able to choose whether or not to offer the specialty courts, if they are approved at the state level. All referrals to the courts would be made by local prosecutors and judges, and the juvenile offenders and their parents/guardians would have to agree to participate.

Calley, an Ionia native who lives in Portland, has long been a champion of mental health issues.

"I have kind of a reputation as being a mental health advocate," she said. "I'm one of the few people who ran on the position of better integration of mental and physical health."

Her desire to improve mental health services, and end stigmatization of victims, came about through one of Calley's own children.

"My eyes were opened when we had a daughter born with autism," said Calley, the wife of Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. "I began to see the world through my daughter's eyes, and the stigmas that go with that. All too often we label people with a disability. Any individual is so much more than a list of disabilities. We all need the ability to reach our full potential."

Calley says specialty courts are great tools for finding out why people end up in court in the first place, addressing those issues, and getting offenders back on the right track.

"They're extremely effective because they get to the heart of the issue," she said. "Why did they appear in front of a judge to begin with? They give new potential and opportunity for new lives. When we treat the heart of the issue we can really change someone's future. Everyone deserves a second chance."

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