County inaugurates mental health court

Members of the Shiawassee County Mental Health Court are seen in this Monday photo.

CORUNNA — The Shiawassee County Mental Health Court got underway in earnest Monday and conducted its first session with its full complement of members.

“With Shiawassee County’s newest court, we’re attempting to tip the scales of justice toward dignity and respect,” Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart said at the outset of the hearing. “We must all understand for this program to work, the courtroom must become a classroom. The courtroom must become one of passion. Mental health court is needed to support the restoration of personhood through the value of dignity. To our new participants, if you want our help to engage in care, we promise we will do everything in our power to do so. There is no reason why all of you cannot overcome whatever is going on in your lives, in order to live a positive and productive life.”

Stewart introduced members of the court, including Prosecutor Deana Finnegan, attorney Matt McKone, compliance manager Elizabeth Brown, co-compliance manager Sary Colbry, Court Administrator Krissy Lab, Deputy Court Administrator Kaitlyn Fuoss, as well as numerous other members from the Sheriff’s Office, Owosso police, the county jail and other agencies.

“What’s exciting here today is that you’re not defendants, you’re participants,” said McKone, who works with the various programs in Circuit Court. “Those of us who are here on Friday mornings know the difference. The numbers with respect to the Department of Corrections are staggering. The cost of housing a human being for the years they are housed. These treatment courts are absolutely necessary. As a member of the drug court, I see first-hand each week how it works. People in these programs are contributing members to our community. It’s exciting to watch. I encourage each of you to take advantage.”

Similar to drug court, participants will attend sessions Monday afternoons in the circuit courtroom and tell Stewart and other court administrators about how they’ve been doing, whether there’s anything they need for treatment or let the court know if they have any requests for treatment or other issues.

Participants have the opportunity to interact with the court in a way that others, who face felony charges and possible prison or jail sentences, don’t have.

One participant at Monday’s hearing told Stewart she was thankful for the chance to take part in the court.

“I do have a traumatic brain injury,” she said. “I have all of you to thank… I like you Judge Stewart, you’ve never done me wrong. I’ve been honest with you and you’ve been honest with me.”

“I have sent you to jail a couple of times,” Stewart answered.

“Well, I have done some things wrong a couple of times,” she said, and told the court about some art projects she’s been working on.

Another participant said he had been doing very well since he had begun taking medication. He said he noticed he’s felt much better since he started taking it.

“A few months ago I was looking at uncertainty,’ he said. “I was basically on my way to prison for what I had done. Being here now, what you guys have done for me, the medication I’m on to make me a better person, the things I want to do to improve my life, it’s all because of this courtroom and you, Judge Stewart, and your team. I’m grateful for it. Thank you all.”

One participant told the court he’d been “doing great” and hasn’t used any technology for several weeks.

“I’ve been hanging out with this girl,” he said. “As a matter of fact, she left a soccer ball at my house.”

“She probably did it on purpose to make sure she has a reason to go back,” Stewart said. “That’s the oldest trick in the book.”

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