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Mental Health Court Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

Judge Harris and Judge Staley
September 5, 2023

On Wednesday, August 30, Judge Ann B. Harris led judges, commissioners, court employees, community stakeholders, and many other supporters to celebrate a decade of Cobb Mental Health Court (MHC) providing accountability and treatment to Cobb County citizens who are diagnosed with a mental illness and find themselves involved in the criminal justice system. Judge Harris addressed the gathering by saying, “Today’s celebration is not just a feel-good moment.  We celebrate meaningful, lasting achievements, like changing the lives of our MHC graduates, enriching the lives of their families, and enhancing the safety and well-being of our community.” She continued, “Mental Health Court seeks to address the unfortunate intersection of mental illness and our criminal justice system, and the cost and futility of incarcerating those afflicted with a mental illness who could be safely treated in the community with proper medication, counseling, and court oversight.  Today we mark the progress we have made, and continue to make, in restoring these individuals to a crime-free life of mental wellness and sobriety.”

Neill Blake who currently serves as the Programs Director and past President of the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) Cobb was keynote speaker for the event. She spoke about the stigma attached to mental illness and how stigma may prevent those who suffer from a mental health diagnosis from seeking help. Ms. Blake added, “Public perception leads to misconceptions about mental illness as character flaws or weaknesses.” She encouraged everyone to practice using “people-first” language because an individual is more than their diagnosis. “People will say someone is a schizophrenic, but no one would say someone is cancer. Instead, we should say a person is diagnosed with an illness.” Ms. Blake reiterated that doing this would help eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness.

Ms. Angela Cain, a former participant and graduate of Cobb MHC spoke to the crowd about her experiences before and after being in MHC and encouraged all current participants to stay focused, keep working and trusting the program because it truly works.

A highlight of the celebration occurred when JoAnn K. Birrell, District 3 County Commissioner, presented the Cobb MHC with an official County Proclamation recognizing a decade of valuable work and achievement helping court-involved citizens of Cobb to manage mental health and get their lives back on track. Commissioner Birrell stated, “First, I’d like to congratulate Mental Health Court for a successful 10 years of service to our community.  In Cobb, we are very fortunate to have the accountability courts that other jurisdictions model after and the participants that benefit from this program.  A special thanks to Judge Mary Staley for having the vision to initiate mental health court and to Judge Ann Harris for continuing the success of the program.”

Started by Judge Mary Staley in 2013, the Cobb County Mental Health Court strives to improve mental health, promote self-sufficiency, reduce recidivism, and offer cost effective alternatives to incarceration and hospitalization. Cobb MHC represents an effort to increase effective cooperation between two systems: the mental health system and the criminal justice system. MHC holds participants accountable while assisting them in achieving long term stability, becoming successful community members, and remaining law abiding citizens. The Cobb MHC has been recognized as a Model Court in the state of Georgia by the Council of Accountability Court Judges and has served as a mentor court to other mental health courts in the state. Cobb MHC is a voluntary, pre-, or post-adjudication, judicially supervised, treatment-based program for those individuals with a documented severe and persistent mental health diagnosis. Cobb MHC partners with Highland Rivers Behavioral Health to provide comprehensive treatment services. Judge Ann B. Harris is the current presiding judge of MHC and leads a multi-disciplinary team in the valiant work of the program. With 80 graduates over the last decade of work, MHC participants are experiencing positive changes.

A special part of the event was a Mental Health Resource Fair where several agencies from the surrounding community were stationed to provide information, guidance and resources for individuals and families dealing with mental health issues. Several current and former MHC participants and families attended the event and were able to receive valuable information at the fair. A current MHC participant in attendance stated, “This program has saved my life.” 

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Press Contact Info

For more information, please contact Coordinator Melanie Valentine at 770-528-8106 or by email