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Michigan Senate passes bills expanding judicial programs for mental health and addiction

Joshua Sukoff

The Michigan Senate passed bipartisan legislation Thursday to give more people access to mental health and drug treatment courts.

Those are programs within the judicial system that provide extra support to people who break the law but might also be dealing with issues related to mental health or addiction.

Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said the legislation will help set people up for success.

“This will put them on path where they’re actually getting the services that they need, getting the support that they need from the court following them all the way through the process rather than them just sort of being put out to the wind to see what happens with the issues that they struggle with,” Chang told reporters.

Current law excludes those who have committed violent crimes from taking part in the treatment court programs. The package would provide for some exceptions to that.

It would give judges and prosecutors the leeway to give violent offenders access to treatment court, with consultation of the victim.

Sen. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe), who voted against the package, said he has concerns about how prosecutorial discretion for offering plea bargains could affect who takes part in the programs.

“If you’re letting them plea down and then use drug court, I got a problem with that. Because I’m a big proponent of treatment courts. They work,” Bellino said.

Bellino said he’s worried about the potential for abuse of the system due to the possibility of serious crimes being pled down.

“Let’s get honest here. Some people believe this works for everybody, and I know as a human being who grew up in an abusive family, who constantly goes to 12 step meetings with felons who are living great lives, I know sometimes this just won’t happen,” Bellino said.

But Chang stressed including more people in treatment court programs could be a good thing, especially compared to punishment alone.

“We are giving a carefully selected group of individuals an opportunity to re-enter the community in a way that’s actually more productive for them and better for all of us,” Chang said.

The package passed the Senate with largely bipartisan support.

Two of the bills now head back to the House for that chamber to agree to changes the Senate made. A third bill in the package is cleared for the governor.

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