Tuscaloosa's Mental Health Court is getting a boost from the United States Justice Department thanks to U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-7th).

The congresswoman who has represented a portion of West Alabama since 2011, presented the City of Tuscaloosa a check for $259,810 in the council chambers Thursday afternoon.

On hand to accept the check were Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, several members of the Tuscaloosa City Council and representatives of the court and Tuscaloosa Police Department.

The Tuscaloosa Mental Health Court was created to help decrease the need for interactions between individuals with mental illness and law enforcement officers through treatment and intervention. The federal funds will support further development of the court's mission.

There are hundreds of interactions between law enforcement officers each year according to TPD records. At the time of the court's inception in 2021, Mayor Maddox wrote a memorandum describing the court's mission, "Our police department is making great strides in improving interactions between officers and individuals with mental illness through increased training and the introduction of dedicated Mental Health Officers,” Maddox stated in his memorandum. “However, improving interactions with officers is just the first step.  Our Municipal Court must have the ability to continue helping those whose mental illness has put them into contact with the criminal justice system and get these individuals the resources and treatment they need.”

According to a statement from the Justice Department, "Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys are seeing increasing numbers of defendants who have serious untreated mental illnesses charged with committing low-level crimes. Traditional court processes do little to improve outcomes for many of these people." Thus, the need for specialized Mental Health Courts which depart from traditional criminal proceedings to treat the defendant's mental health rather than just incarcerate.

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