Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 18, 2016

Mental Health Court celebrates grads

Taking part in the inaugural Mental Health Court graduation ceremony last week were, from left, Jim Rox, Tennessee Department of Corrections MHC probation officer; Bo Roberts, Joe Johnson MHC case manager; Kenneth Thacker, graduate; Anna Protano-Biggs, MHC director and assistant public defender; Danielle Beck, Health Connect America MHC case manager; Abigale Hostetler, graduate. - Photograph by David Laprad

Mental Health Court last week held its first graduation ceremony since its inception last year with Judge Lila Statom presiding over the graduation of two participants in the General Sessions MHC program.

The MHC program is voluntary and open to criminal defendants with serious mental illness who are candidates for an alternative sentence. There is an emphasis on judicial supervision combined with individualized plans of social and treatment services to help participants who would otherwise be released into the community without additional support.

It is a two-year program in Criminal Court led by Judge Don Poole and an 11 month and 29 day program in General Sessions Court led by Judge Lila Statom.

Graduate Kenneth Thacker says MHC helped him more than going to jail would have.

“I learned several ways to stay out of trouble, and I have resources helping me to stay on track,” he said. “Going to jail would have made things worse.”

Graduate Abigale Hostetler says the program helped her rein in her temper and focus on the future.

“When I became angry, I would break things and try to start fights,” she says. “I’ve learned to walk away.”

Hostetler is looking for a job and intends to pursue a college degree.

MHC director Anna Protano-Biggs says she’s proud of both graduates.

“They worked hard at the program over the last year and did well,” she explains. “They’re part of a family now, and they’ll always be welcome to talk with us whenever they’re in crisis or need help being connected to resources.”

The MHC program in Hamilton County has over 40 participants, Protano-Biggs says. More participants should graduate next summer.