Mental Health Court in Rapid City gives people another alternative

RAPID CITY, SD (KEVN) Laura Hill said she never heard"hey you're doing good" when she was growing up.

First Mental Health Court in South Dakota opens in Pennington County (KEVN)

"You're doing wrong. Like it was always a mess up," Hill said.

Hill has a lot to live for, her three kids she has hardly had a chance to raise because of drug use.

Diagnosed with Bipolar disorder at the age of ten and abused mentally and physically, she spent her teenage years in and out of treatment.

Doctors said she would be on medication for the rest of her life, but then the doors of the Mental Health Court in Pennington County opened.

Mental Health Court is a specialty court utilizing a problem-solving protocol to take people likely to be sentenced to prison because of criminal history and mental health and provide them with intensive probation, incentives, and other tools for life.

"It allows us to see the rewards, see the effect of all the hard work our participants are putting in and that's certainly different than what we do in our everyday jobs," said Judge Jeff Connolly, a circuit court judge for the Seventh Judicial Circuit.

Connolly works alongside a team of community mental health providers, probation officers, and attornies ensuring people like Hill get assistance and a listening ear ...

"they give you a chance to speak your mind and talk. They don't just come at you like regular court and be like 'hey you did this wrong, we're going to punish you, probation, etc.," Hill said.

Participants must complete the four phases of the program and are expected to show up sober and clean each week.

'We've had some success stories thus far. We've seen some improvement in a number of our participants on a daily basis.," Conolly said.

On her way to her second phase, Hill said she and her peers are continuously encouraged.

"To hear them say you're doing good is amazing because I didn't hear that growing up," she added.

With mental health issues hovering over the state and the country, facilitators believe the court is just another step in the right direction.

"It will be a better use of the money and the resources that we have because there is a group of people who are not served by being in the state penitentiary," Connolly said.

The South Dakota Legislature has approved a second court in Minnehaha County set to begin in January 2020.