ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Tracci says the Virginia Supreme Court's approval of a therapeutic mental health docket is welcome news.
"We don't have an existing mechanismn to ensure that people who are low-level, nonviolent offenders have some non-penal alternative to ensure they get the mental health treatment they deserve," Tracci said.
Pending funding approval from the City of Charlottesville, the docket will be held in Charlottesville General District Court with Judge Robert Downer presiding. It will be similar to drug court, where offenders can get treatment and have the charges dropped upon completion.
The mental health docket will only be used for misdemeanors. Eligible offenders will be required to plead guilty and to complete court-ordered treatment to have the charge dismissed.
Tracci says prosecutors will have the final say on who can participate, and certain charges including DUIs won't be allowed.
Clinical psychologist Herb Stewart served on the steering committee for the docket and says it provides a better way to handle offenders with mental illness.
"Jails do the best they can with serious illness, but that's not what they're designed and staffed for," he said.
Stewart says there's evidence that such dockets do work.
"Research shows that it typically, in five or six controlled studies, does help with reducing recidivism rates by a few points," he said.
The new docket requires funding approval from the county and the city. The county has already approved the $55,000 for the first year.
"It makes sense moneywise," said Supervisor Ned Gallaway. "It makes sense standard of carewise for those involved."
Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy says he expects his fellow councilors to approve the funding as well in the near future.
"This is not only a bipartisan issue," he said, "but this is truly a regional and collaborative issue that we can all work together on."