September 4, 2016 – Updated: September 4, 2016 at 11:22 pm
Original Article Published on the Gazette.com
When Linda Fitzwater’s son couldn’t chase the “demons” from his thoughts, he tried to burn them out – by setting fire to his apartment building.
But as the former Marine stood for graduation at 4th Judicial District Mental Health Court, his voices were quiet, his delusions at bay, and a tearful Fitzwater had more hope for her son than at any point since his life-changing schizophrenia diagnosis in 2004.
“I believe this saved my son’s life,” she said after the Aug. 29 ceremony, where she wiped her eyes and applauded as he joined the ranks of 11 new graduates.
There was also cause to mourn, she said, because the court that wrote a new chapter in her son’s battle with mental illness was officially shutting down after four years.
“I’m just so sad to see that this program is ending. It’s something that works.”
Last week’s graduation marked the final meeting of El Paso County’s Mental Health Court, which offered severely mentally ill defendants the chance to avoid jail and prison if they chose to go on medication and attend weekly interventions with a judge, attorneys, probation officers and mental health professionals focused on getting them treatment, housing and employment.
Over the past four years, the court accepted 50 people and produced 20 graduates – a niche audience deemed too small to sustain.
“Too many resources, and too much manpower, for not enough people,” the court’s founder, Judge Deborah Grohs, said she was told by Chief Judge Gilbert Martinez. Grohs said Martinez informed her in March that she wouldn’t receive required letters of support from him or District Attorney Dan May in her bid to renew a $350,000 federal grant that kept the program running.
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