Sandy Springs court working on treatment program for offenders struggling with mental illness, substance abuse

There's a new effort in one metro Atlanta city to keep non-violent offenders out of jail.

The Sandy Springs municipal court system wants to help defendants struggling with mental illness or substance abuse.

The city’s new solicitor, Steven Ellis, recently announced a new treatment program and is currently looking for applicants.

Eliis said they want people with either no prior criminal history or very limited criminal history. He said he constantly sees people in court suffering from severe substance abuse or mental health challenges.


"Having somebody with a mental illness or substance abuse problems sitting in jail, at the end of the day isn't going to do anybody any good," Elilis told Reporter Brian Hill. 

City administrators said one of the challenges with locking up people who battle alcohol or drug abuse is that they run the risk of not getting proper help and re-offending.

"These are individuals who but for these issues that they have would not be out committing crimes in our community," he explained. 

Ellis said the city is working on two treatment programs: one for non-violent offenders, the other for DUI cases.

If non-violent offenders successfully complete the 12- to 24-month program, they could avoid jail time.

"We're looking for individuals whose criminogenic conduct is being driven by an underlying substance abuse or mental illness or both," Ellis, who was recently hired for this position, said. 

For those DUI cases, eligible defendants would enter a guilty plea and complete their jail sentence.

If they finish the treatment program, their conviction could be reversed.

"We spend a lot of money putting people in jail, keeping them in jail and the medical cost that we incur are related, many times, to folks who are in jail that shouldn't be," attorney Dan Lee said. 

The program will be modeled after each individual participant and they'll have an accountability team to assist them along the way.

Participants will pay a $700 entry fee plus $60 dollars each month which Ellis said isn't unusual for programs like this.

"We're gonna continue to work with our finance department and other city partners to figure out a way we can expand the eligibility of the program where it comes to finance. We don't want anybody to be turned away," Ellis detailed. 

The program will also target military veterans whose issues Ellis tells us are likely amplified by post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The city wants to have between 30 and 45 participants in the first year. 

They'll start accepting applications in August. 

To get involved, you can reach out to the city's municipal court.

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