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Supreme Court Justice Supports Diversion for Mental Health

(from the press release)
New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Briana H. Zamora

A new court-based initiative will help guide people with severe mental illness to appropriate treatment and away from the criminal justice system when they are arrested for misdemeanor offenses in Doña Ana County.

Court and county leaders today announced the competency diversion pilot project in the Doña Ana County Magistrate Court.

It will focus on adults charged with misdemeanor offenses, such as trespassing and petty theft, who have a history of mental illness and previously have been found incompetent to stand trial on criminal charges.

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Briana H. Zamora said, “The goal is to empower people to lead safer and more productive lives by connecting them to behavioral health treatment and community services for food, housing and other needs. Doing this promotes public safety by reducing rearrests and will lessen the strain on emergency rooms, courts and law enforcement who otherwise may repeatedly interact with the same individuals struggling with mental illnesses.”

Justice Zamora serves as the Court’s liaison to the Commission on Mental Health and Competency, which envisioned the competency diversion pilot project. The Supreme Court established the commission in 2022 to improve how the justice system responds to people experiencing mental health related issues.

The competency diversion project represents a different approach by courts to helping people with severe mental illnesses, who are among the most vulnerable members of our state. Currently, criminal charges are dismissed against people found incompetent to stand trial. Those individuals return to the streets without community services that potentially can stabilize their lives and help prevent future arrests.

The pilot initiative will provide early diversion to treatment and offer collaborative care options.

Participants of this program would voluntarily consent to the treatment parameters and proper completion would lead to a dismissal of their criminal charges.

Shantar Baxter Clinton is the hourly News Reporter for KSFR. He’s earned an Associates of the Arts from Bard College at Simons Rock and a Bachelors in journalism with a minor in anthropology from the University of Maine.