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Bell Pushes For Significant Expansion Of St. Louis County Treatment Courts

 St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell outlines his plans to expand the county's drug and mental health courts on January 9, 2019, as court and prosecutorial staff, as well as his supporters, look on.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
With court and prosecutorial staff, and supporters looking on, Wesley Bell announces Tuesday that he will push for expansion of the county's mental health and drug-treatment courts.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell wants to boost the number of people accepted into the county’s drug and mental health courts and enhance the services available to participants.

“The principle behind this program is simple,” Bell said Tuesday at a news conference unveiling the expansion plans. “When non-violent offenders receive treatment, they are less likely to reoffend, which can help break the cycle of escalation that so often starts with addiction or mental illness and ends in violent crime or death by drug overdose. By turning these lives around, we will make St. Louis safer for everyone.”

Individuals who are selected for drug and mental health courts are usually charged with low-level, non-violent crimes that are in some way connected to addiction or mental illness. They can avoid having a criminal record by completing a probation-like program that includes drug testing and treatment.

In addition to getting more defendants into the programs, Bell wants to offer them additional services, like job training from the Urban League, or housing assistance from Beyond Housing.

“If we can stabilize their family life, if we can get them to not worry about where they’re going to be the next day,” we can provide them with needed services, said Chris Krehmeyer, Beyond Housing’s president and chief executive officer. Krehmeyer is also the co-chair of County Executive Steve Stenger’s task force on affordable housing.

Bell did not present many specifics of the plan, including how much it will cost and whether the 21st Circuit Court has the capacity to supervise additional defendants.

State court statistics show St. Louis County had 68 people participating in its treatment courts as of June 30, 2017, which are the most recent numbers available. By contrast, St. Louis had more than 300 people in its treatment courts. Jackson County, which includes most of Kansas City, had nearly 900 defendants.

“That’s going to be a question we talk about as a team with the judges, with Justice Services, with our community partners, so that we can see what those logistics look like,” he said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.