Judy Porter is not unfamiliar with the Boone County Courthouse. She has been to the courthouse to support her grandson, Brandon Stone, who has been charged with several misdemeanors during the past few years.
However, Porter couldn’t wait to get back to the courthouse on Tuesday. She sat anxiously in the third row of Courtroom 2-West waiting for the judge to call her grandson’s name.
“I think this is an excellent program and I have seen a lot of positive changes in Brandon,” Porter said. “All of the people involved with the program are very dedicated and devoted.”
Stone, 24, was one of seven to graduate from the program Tuesday and one of 20 since the program started in April 2002.
“Graduation is something we have all worked hard to earn, and it’s a great program,” Stone said. “It has changed my life and a lot of other people I know.”
However, Stone’s feelings toward the program have not always been so positive.
“I remember the first time you appeared,” said Carpenter, the presiding judge over the program. “You ran out of the courthouse and did not want to be here. But we got you back and I am really proud you are graduating.”
Carpenter also presides over the drug court, which is a model for the program. Both offer an alternative to prosecution and jail for the offenders. However, drug court is something people can be ordered to attend, and Mental Health Court is completely voluntary, Carpenter said.
“The only other option besides Mental Health Court is jail; I choose this,” said John Marquez, who has been in the program for six months. “The program helps everyone even if they aren’t aware of it. I get to learn about myself and about my disorders and how to deal with them. Also, they want to help, and they do by providing medical assistance from the state.”
Tuesday marked the third graduation ceremony since Boone County received a federal grant of $142,000, used to implement the program, which is designed to help nonviolent offenders who are found to have mental illnesses or disabilities that might have contributed to the criminal conduct of the offense.
The program provides the offenders with medicine, support and even a place to live if necessary. It helps the offenders learn and cope with their mental illness or disability instead of them being incarcerated.