San Francisco Behavioral Health Court Wins Best Practices Award

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San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Behavioral Health Court (BHC) has been selected by the Council on Mentally Ill Offenders (COMIO) to receive a 2008 Best Practices Award. BHC was one of three projects selected for this statewide honor.

BHC redirects mentally ill offenders from jail and into intensive case management programs in the community mental health system.  BHC endeavors to find dispositions to their criminal charges that take mental illness into consideration in order to decrease their chances of returning to the criminal justice system. The Public Defender’s Office provides direct representation to indigent clients who have been referred to BHC.

To qualify for BHC, defendants must be diagnosed as having a DSM-IV axis I mental disorder or, in some circumstances, developmental disabilities, and they must be amenable to treatment in the community mental health system. The court anticipates that relapses may occur, and emphasizes positive reinforcement for successes rather than sanctions for failures. BHC, instituted in 2003, serves over 200 people each year.

COMIO is comprised of eleven members, representing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California Department of Mental Health and members of law enforcement, the legislature and the courts. Since 2001, its charge has been to “investigate and promote cost-effective approaches to meeting the long-term needs of adults and juveniles with mental disorders who are likely to become offenders or who have a history of offending.”

The awards will be presented in conjunction with the 33rd Annual Forensic Mental Health Association of California Conference on Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 7:00 PM in Seaside, CA. Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, the presiding U.S. District Judge in Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, will give the keynote address.

The mission of the Public Defender’s office is to provide vigorous, effective, competent and ethical legal representation to persons who are accused of crime and cannot afford to hire an attorney. Established in 1921, the San Francisco Public Defender has a long, proud history of providing top-notch representation to its clients, and championing programs that help people turn their lives around.

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