Douglas County Commission schedules work session on proposed mental health court

The Douglas County commission meets in the historic courtroom on the second floor of the old county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday will discuss one of the three foundational pieces of its approach to improving the county’s criminal justice system.

Commissioners will discuss a nearly $450,000 plan to create a mental health court, which would be designed to take certain defendants with mental health issues out of the county’s standard court system and place them into a specialized court setting that would allow judges more flexibility in sentencing matters.

Commissioners are set to discuss the issue at a 4 p.m. work session on Wednesday at the Douglas County Courthouse.

The session will precede the commission’s consideration in the coming weeks of a $442,734 line item in the 2017 budget to fund a mental health court, Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said.

The discussion Wednesday is with stakeholders who would be involved with a mental health court concerning how the court would operate and what its goals would be, Weinaug said.

Creation of a mental health court is one of three elements the County Commission has endorsed for improving the county’s criminal justice system, along with construction of a mental health crisis intervention center in partnership with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Inc. and the expansion and renovation of the Douglas County Jail. The crisis intervention center and jail expansion will require voter approval of a funding mechanism for their construction. Such a referendum is on hold as the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council reviews the county’s criminal justice system.

In April, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said his office had developed protocols for the operation of a mental health court — after more than a year of discussions with Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny, Douglas County Court Services, representatives of Bert Nash and DCCCA, county consultant Margaret Severson and other agencies whose missions touch those with mental illness, he said.

Under the proposal, individuals with mental health issues who did not represent a flight risk or a risk to public safety could be offered diversions before or after charges were filed for low-level offenses. The individuals would then be required to follow up with prescribed treatment plans, with the court apprised of their progress. With successful completion of treatment, charges would not be filed in the case of pre-filing diversions or they would be dismissed in the case of post-filing diversions.

Weinaug reiterated Tuesday the position of Branson, Pokorny and Severson in April that a mental health court could operate effectively as a stand-alone entity. All agreed it would be more effective with a crisis intervention center because it would provide a place to divert inmates for treatment.

• Also on Wednesday, commissioners have scheduled a 6 p.m. public hearing on Nunemaker-Ross Inc.’s request for a five-year conditional use permit for a clean rubble landfill at 1736 East 1550 Road. The rubble will be used to fill a borrow pit created when materials were excavated for work on Interstate 70 near the property.

The conditional use permit comes to commissioners with a recommendation for approval with the stipulations that trucks follow a defined access route, the landfill be used only for clean rubble and it be capped with top soil and grass.