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Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court

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Behavioral Health Court Celebrates 20 Years

November 28, 2023

Chief Judge and Presiding Program Judge Joshua J. Sánchez congratulates Dale Burton, who recently graduated from the Behavioral Health Court at the treatment court’s 20th Anniversary Celebration. 

In November, the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court commemorated the 20th anniversary of its Behavioral Health Court, a treatment court that works to increase public safety and the quality of life for people with a mental health diagnosis charged with a crime by reducing criminogenic behavior and providing lifelong stability.

Established in November of 2003 by retired Metropolitan Court Judge Kevin L. Fitzwater, the Behavioral Health Court, formerly known as Mental Health Court, has provided an alternative path for individuals whose involvement with the criminal justice system is linked to mental health and substance use issues. By adopting a holistic approach, the court has not only improved outcomes for participants but has also contributed to the overall well-being of the community.

“The anniversary serves as an opportunity to reflect on the milestones achieved and the lives positively impacted by the Behavioral Health Court,” said Chief Judge Joshua J. Sánchez, who presides over the program. “It symbolizes a commitment to breaking down barriers, reducing recidivism, and fostering a more compassionate and understanding legal system.”

Since the program’s inception two decades ago, 1,787 participants have graduated from the treatment court.

Enrollment in the Behavioral Health Court is voluntary. The multidisciplinary Behavioral Health Court team consists of the presiding judge, a program manager, a case manager, a public defender, an assistant district attorney and a probation officer who oversee the program and have special expertise working with individuals with mental illness. Behavioral Health Court is contracted with local treatment providers to ensure that all participants are receiving clinically appropriate mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Depending upon their progress, defendants spend between six months to a year in the Behavioral Health Court.

Back in March, the court dedicated nearby office space to serving those in the court’s Behavioral Health programs with the hopes of eliminating some of the stresses associated with visiting a bustling courthouse and to increase accessibility for community providers.

The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Behavioral Health Court on Wednesday, November 29, 2023. The celebration featured a testimonial from a program graduate and remarks from officials who have been instrumental in the success of the program.