Iowa is part of a growing movement in the United States toward specialty courts. Specialty courts often deal with drug problems, but one that opened in Black Hawk County in early September handles mental health issues. Judge Thomas Bower presides over the court and says it handles cases differently than traditional courts.
Bower says they screen people that may need mental health services “that are often times kind of in the revolving door of the criminal justice system.” He says they try to use a “holistic” approach to deal with all other issues that come up besides the criminal offense to get at the course issue along with the mental issue to keep them out of the court system after they complete a probationary period. Bower says more is asked of the people in this system.
Bower says if you go to prison you may serve 20 to 50-percent of your sentence and then you are paroled. In this program those involved see a judge every other week, and you also meet with a probation officer and mental health counselor and psychiatrists every week. Bower says the people in the program have huge goals they have to meet to satisfy the requirements to make themselves better instead of just doing the minimum required. He says the specialty courts are better for everyone in the long run.
Bower says if people weren’t in the special court, they would be either in be in jail or prison. He says when you take the cost of locking someone up compared to the cost of having them in the community, the costs are much lower to have them in the community.
The first specialty court in Iowa was created in Woodbury County in 2002. Bower made his comments on the Iowa Public Radio program, “The Exchange.”