Our Voice: Mental health court needs a long-term funding plan

Benton County Commissioners are poised to take a major step toward the creation of a mental health court on Tuesday.

Commissioners will vote to approve a resolution allowing District Court to hire a manager to oversee the program.

Mental health care is one of the most important initiatives we can support in our community. Too often people in need of treatment end up in the county jail, instead.

Mental health court would go a long way toward helping those who end up trouble because of their illness.

In theory, it would cut down on repeat offenses and help put participants on a more successful path in life.

And while hiring a manager is a big step, what is more important is to make sure that the court is funded in perpetuity. Long-term funding for the program is an issue commissioners must address.

The initial funding is to come from the 0.3 percent public safety sales tax which Benton County voters approved last year. The tax is expected to generate $9.2 million in revenue annually, to be divided among Kennewick, Richland, West Richland, Prosser and the county.

With 60 percent of the revenue going to Benton County, there should be sufficient dollars for drug court. But since this is a new program being built from the ground up, some in the mental health community have concerns that more turnkey programs and projects may deplete the tax revenue before the developing mental health court gets its share.

What we don’t want to see is a program with such promise meet its demise after a short run because the dollars have dried up.

People in our community are suffering, and helping them combat mental illness and cope with their circumstances to the best of their abilities is something we owe our fellow citizens.

Mental illness is insidious. It is not a choice. It does not discriminate, and it impacts people from all walks of life.

People sometimes take their own lives because of mental illness and the lack of sufficient care. The spiral can be quick, and other times it is heartbreakingly slow, with glimmers of hope shattered by slides back to darkness. Hindsight haunts survivors.

Many who deal daily with their demons are stuck in the criminal justice system when they should be getting treatment for their illnesses. With care, counseling and treatment, the potential exists for a long-term fix that can help folks lead more productive lives.

In addition to the court, the county is considering an addition to the jail to house and help mentally ill inmates, including those on suicide watch.

We need to take on mental illness on all fronts in this community and find long-term solutions for those in need. Mental health court is a giant leap forward, and our commissioners need to find a way to get the doors open and keep them that way. Our community as a whole will be better off for it.