MENTAL HEALTH COURTLocation: 100 James Robertson Parkway, Suite 100 Nashville, TN 37219 Phone number: (615) 862-8320 Judge Dan Eisenstein, Presiding Tonia Dixon, Program Manager
In July 2000, the General Sessions Court was awarded a four-year Edward Byrne Memorial Grant establishing a Mental Health Court for Davidson County. The court became operational in January 2001, thereby becoming only the fifth such court in the nation. The grant application was developed in conjunction with the Public Defenderís Office with the full support of the District Attorney Generalís Office. Judge Dan Eisenstein, the newest member of the court who specialized in mental health cases during his career in private practice, presides over the court, which meets five days a week to address the ongoing needs of jurisdictional defendants.
Steven Murff is the program manager of the court. Currently, the court employs two fulltime mental health specialists - Kate Chaffin and Kelly Mills--who provide ongoing professional assistance to those defendants being supervised by the court. Studies have consistently shown that persons suffering from a serious or persistent mental illness and/or developmental liabilities do not respond well to the traditional sanctions imposed in the adversarial environment of the criminal justice system. Consequently, this population has typically been subjected to longer periods of incarceration and has experienced higher rates recidivism than the general public as a whole. In an effort to overcome these costly problems, persons from the mental health population who are charged with less serious offenses and pose less danger to themselves and others are diverted to the Mental Health Court.
Once there, the individual is assessed and a holistic treatment intervention program is developed to address the multiple issues facing the offender, serving as a catalyst for his/her criminal conduct. Through this comprehensive therapeutic approach, the Court is able to enhance the offenderís integration into mainstream society by providing him/her with the resources and support systems for a stable and productive life. To maximize the effectiveness of this unique process, the court is designed as a collaborative decision-making enterprise among the criminal justice system, local community mental health treatment providers, alcohol and drug treatment providers, vocational rehabilitation, housing and educational counselors and numerous other public and private agencies. Progress with the treatment plan is then closely monitored through the Courtís staff, community service agencies, treatment providers and ongoing regularly scheduled court appearances. The court has approximately 145 defendants under active supervision. Since its inception, more than 150 participants have graduated after having successfully complying with the courtís stringent requirements. As a result of its efforts in providing this innovative program, NAMI-Nashville presented the court its 2002 "Ambassador of Hope" award.