This summer the Fairfax County General District Court will roll out its new Mental Health Docket: an effort to make the court system fairer for those with mental health issues.
“We generally, from a justice standpoint, want to treat everybody the same,” said Judge Tina Snee, who spearheaded the effort. “Folks with mental health are not being treated the same. They’re being treated worse.”
Snee says those with mental health are more likely to be convicted of a crime; a judge may sentence the defendant to jail because they may perceive them as a “threat to themselves or to the public.” Snee also says there are more people in jail with mental health issues than there are in treatment facilities.
The Mental Health Docket will reduce the chances of a conviction and open up the opportunity for treatment. The defendant can request to be added through their attorney, or the CSB or commonwealth’s attorney can make a referral.
Once approved by the docket coordinator, the defendant will work with a trained judge, a sheriff or bailiff, the commonwealth’s attorney, a behavioral health specialist, and other specialized staff members, to map out a path to care over 12 to 24 months.
“And what I’m doing is monitoring that they’re getting the services that they need,” said Snee. “We have the mental health specialist in the courtroom saying, ‘Yes, they’re being compliant with their medication…yes, they’re working on the community service…things of that nature.”
The Fairfax District Court submitted the docket to the Virginia Supreme Court in December of 2018, and it was approved in February. Snee says the docket has been piloted since August.