Mental health services in Davidson County’s courts to get $600K boost

Nashville will invest $600,000 on a new effort to help vulnerable misdemeanor defendants access care outside of the criminal justice system, Mayor John Cooper announced Thursday. 

The funds are part of a one-year pilot program and will be administered through the Mental Health Court.

Cooper promised the funds for mental health services for the Davidson County court system as part of an ongoing collaboration with General Sessions Court Judge Melissa Blackburn.

The announcement was linked with the release of a task force report that outlines recommendations on how to build a program to address a services funding gap. 

Blackburn worked with District Attorney General Glenn Funk and Public Defender Martesha Johnson, as well as a mayoral task force, to find ways to help a small population of people who end up the revolving door of the criminal justice system.

“Many of us who serve in a criminal justice system came together with the understanding of a simple truth: Our system isn’t working, either for those with mental illness, or public safety,” Blackburn said Thursday. “I believe those of us whose positions are at the intersection of criminal justice and human health have a responsibility.”

Defendants incompetent for trial

A narrow but consistent population of defendants are the focus of the task force’s research. 

To stand trial and face charges, a defendant must be able to understand the court process and assist counsel, which includes rational decision making and the ability to systematically weigh alternatives.

General Sessions Court Judge Melissa Blackburn

But not everyone charged with a crime meets those standards. 

When there is a question of temporary or permanent incompetence for trial, the courts can order a defendant be evaluated. In Nashville, they’ll be seen by a forensic evaluation team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

In theory, some of those defendants could have their competency restored, through medication or therapeutic services. 

But for misdemeanor defendants, the process stops there. 

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