In recognition of the impact that individuals with mental health issues have on Vermont’s courts and to respond to their needs, the Vermont Supreme Court has recently established the Vermont Judiciary Commission on Mental Health and the Courts. Comprised of representatives from each of the three co-equal branches of Vermont state government including judges, legislators and executive agencies that assist people with serious mental illness, the Commission’s overarching purpose is “to advance the pursuit of equal justice under the law” while identifying advances in the justice system “that will positively impact the administration of justice where it intersects with mental health, evaluate solutions and recommend change.”
Given that the sooner a person with serious mental illness is offered and engages with treatment the more likely that they will benefit with fewer long-term negative consequences for themselves and for others, the Commission’s Charge and Designation underscores the importance of coordinating efforts state-wide to identify those who need treatment and to provide it.
The Commission’s framework includes steps aimed at identifying and training persons who regularly are in contact with court-involved individuals with mental illness to properly assess and refer them to treatment or placement. The steps also include convening a Vermont summit on mental health and the justice system.
Vermont Chief Justice Paul Reiber and Associate Justice Karen Carroll co-chair the Commission, whose members also include Superior Court Judges Thomas Carlson and Kate Hayes, as well as representatives from the Vermont Judiciary, Vermont Legislature, Vermont Bar Association, Attorney General’s Office, Defender General’s Office, States’ Attorneys’ and Sheriffs’ Office, Agency of Human Services, Designated Agencies, Designated Hospitals and the Department of Corrections.
Based on models from other states where the judiciary has taken on a leadership role by convening the necessary actors to accomplish the Commission’s goals, the Commission seeks to build on local community engagement from the beginning, including with local prosecutors, public defenders, legal aid organizations, community mental and physical health agencies, hospitals, schools, law enforcement, housing and local state agency offices, faith-based and other community organizations and local elected officials. The Commission will hold its first meeting in September. Information about the Commission can be found here.