Panhandle Regional Problem Solving Court Breaking the Cycle with Restorative Justice | KAMR
AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Defendants with qualified mental health diagnoses in the Panhandle have an option other than serving jail time after committing a crime. Now they can break the cycle.
Earlier this year, the Panhandle Regional Problem Solving Court received approval from the Texas Office of Courts Administration, which means the court can apply for grants and serve the area.
The program was born after the cousin of 47th District Attorney Randall Sims was arrested and released from Potter County Jail without the medication she needed.
“She went bad, she went bad and she needed a lot of medication,” Sims said. “Someone has to do something because they’re walking out with nothing.”
For the past six years, Sims’ office has worked with qualified offenders to get the help they need through Texas Panhandle Centers (TPCs).
The program was successful, with a 70% graduation rate.
“Some people don’t need to go to jail. They need help, and that’s what it’s all about,” added Sims.
Now, the prosecutor’s office only decides who is eligible for the problem-solving court.
“Once the defendant is accepted into my court, their criminal case is put on hold,” said Judge Matt Hand, who chairs the Problem Resolution Tribunal. “And as long as they comply with their treatment plans and meet the requirements, my court, at the end of their stay in my court, they graduate and the criminal charges are dismissed. They therefore have no criminal record for this event.
The court operates from Potter County Courthouse at Law #2.
“I’m the ultimate accountability coach because not only do I encourage them to stick to their plans and do what they need to do to improve, but I can send them to jail if they don’t. “, Judge Hand said.
Lisa Ricketson, a licensed professional counselor who works with inmates at Potter County Jail, said they often see the same people behind bars.
“It just gives them more support,” Ricketson said of the Problem Solving Court program. “So if they need to access CPT services, or if they need professional help, or housing, or maybe even drug addiction counseling or mental health counseling, and that will be something that will be dealt with by the court.”
Ricketson said the defendants are connected to the resources needed to succeed, including drug stabilization.
“It can make a huge difference in someone’s life. So they can be productive. They don’t heal themselves. They are dealing with these issues that they have avoided all their lives and which have caused them problems,” she added.
Judge Hand said: “Our hope is that if we can stabilize them, and in a better place, we break the cycle and they don’t come back, which means we don’t keep them in jail.”
According to Justice Hand, the program reduces the prison population and the crime rate.
“We allow these people to continue with their lives,” he said. “They’re not losing their jobs and losing their homes and it’s really a win-win situation for the taxpayers, the defendant justice system, and it’s a great opportunity.”
Last year, the Potter County Commissioners Court passed a resolution to begin the process of transforming the problem-solving court into a recognized specialist court.
It joins the county’s two other recognized specialty courts, including Potter-Randall County Drug Court and Panhandle Regional Veterans Treatment Court.