$389,500 grant allows for court treatment program

By HASKEL BURNS,

When new leadership was brought on board at Hattiesburg Municipal Court in August 2017 – including Wes Curry as judge and Phillip McSwain as court clerk – it was with the intent that the court would not exist as simply a revenue generator for the city.

Instead, Mayor Toby Barker said, the court should be in place to help individuals make better decisions and lead better lives, allowing Hattiesburg to become a safer place to live.

That vision was furthered Tuesday, when Hattiesburg City Council members voted to execute a Memorandum of Understanding between the court and Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources to implement a treatment program designed to assist adult substance-using offenders with co-occurring mental health disorders. The program, officially titled “Hattiesburg Municipal Court-Hattiesburg Behavioral Health Court Treatment Expansion,” will be made possible with a $385,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which was applied for by grant writer Jennifer Shows.

“This will target people who have misdemeanor offenses with these co-occurring disorders – substance abuse and mental health,” Barker said during a news conference Monday. “Based on historical data, our population (in the program) will be about 60 percent female; it will be mostly low socio-economic status, which means 75 percent of these folks are unemployed, and about half of them are homeless, and 80 percent of them have not completed high school.

“There will be a very evidence-based course of treatment for these co-occurring disorders, and that’s a big thing in our state, is the move to an evidence-based policy. The goal of this is to decrease substance use of a minimum of 200 Hattiesburg Behavioral Health Court participants over a five-year period.”

The treatment team will include a judge, project director, peer recovery support specialist, clinician, recovery support specialist, psychiatrist and evaluator. Evidence-based treatment practices will be utilized, and individualized recovery support plans will be collaboratively developed to meet participants’ needs.

“Judge Curry had the insight, as individuals came into his courtroom, to observe that some of them were suffering from mental health symptoms, but that many of them also had a co-occurring disorder,” said Dr. Rita Porter, Director of Adult Services at Pine Belt Mental Health. “Without treating the co-occurring disorder, often the mental health issues do not resolve.

“So we put together this team … and together, they’re going to implement whatever it takes for the individual to succeed. Each individual will have individualized treatment planning that’s going to include cognitive behavioral therapy. In addition, some individuals will need outpatient treatment, but we’ve identified that some individuals will need residential treatment from Clearview Recovery Center.”

The Memorandum of Understanding will begin upon grant funding approval and will cover services provided during the grant performance period for five years, ending May 30, 2024, unless the agreement is otherwise terminated.

“I look forward to seeing the results,” Porter said. “We’ve had great results thus far with our other behavioral health courts, and I have no doubt that this is going to continue.”

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