Mental Health Court Will Serve to Public and Participants

Published on May 11, 2022


Earlier this year, Judge Ross C. Nigro., Jr., Belton’s Municipal Division judge, made a presentation to the city council that led to the anticipated launch, possibly later this spring, of the Belton Municipal Mental Health Court Diversion Program.  


The program’s goal for the community is to reduce recidivism and improve public safety; for the participant, it is to improve services to offenders who have serious and persistent mental illness by assuring a continuum of care and access to mental health services.


“I was motivated to bring a mental health court program to Belton because I was seeing many of the same people in custody on a regular basis,” said Nigro. “Sometimes they would be arraigned in the morning, released on bond and then they would be back in custody that evening on new charges.”


The program is completely voluntary. To participate in the program the offender must have a diagnosed mental health condition, the prosecutor must agree to transfer the case to the mental health docket and the offender must agree to participate in the program. There is no cost to the city for the program.


The program is carried out in coordination with Compass Health Network, a non-profit statewide healthcare organization that provides assistance, counseling and professional staff to participants. There also is an assigned court monitor for each participant who does a great deal including confirming the proper diagnosis, coordinating private health insurance or state aid, assisting with stable living arrangements and employment as well as creating and monitoring the phases of, and the participant’s compliance with, the intensive mental health treatment program. 


“It is not a free pass to the offender,” Nigro added. “Participants have to work hard over a period of up to a year or more, meeting a lot of requirements before they ‘graduate,’ which makes them eligible to have their charge or charges dismissed.”


The mental health court program is described in four phases, each estimated to last two months. A participant will be required to report to the court monitor and/or the integrated health specialist weekly, cooperate with the Compass Health Team and the Mental Health Court team, participate in mental health treatment and/or substance abuse treatment, as required, remain drug and alcohol free, remain medication compliant and attend monthly court hearings.


Later program phases reference cooperation with home visits by the participant’s court monitor, caseworker and/or probation officer; participating in continuing education or maintaining employment; and completing a community service project. In anticipation of ‘graduating,’ the participant is to prepare a statement of goals to present to the judge, a detailed relapse prevention plan (with help from a Mental Health Court counselor) as well as a before and after statement and, to be current on all fines, court costs, community service and other fees.


“The Belton Municipal Mental Health Court Diversion Program, while helping these individuals can also serve to make the city a better place to live by reducing crimes caused by undertreated mental health issues,” said Nigro. “Success will be getting a good percent of these individuals stable and on the right track. That’s a win-win for everybody.”


Nigro adds that if anyone is aware of a person with pending charges suffering from mental health issues, please reach out to the court or the city prosecutor with a recommendation to have the charges transferred to the mental health docket.



Tagged as: