Graduates of the Hattiesburg Behavioral Health Court were rewarded for their dedication to the program on Thursday.
Eight people were presented certificates of completion by Hattiesburg Municipal Court Judge Jerry Evans.
The program benefits it's participants by giving them increased access to mental health treatment as well as accesses to other services such as job skills training, education and housing assistance. Once completed, the charges of the graduates are dropped.
The participants were in the 18 month program that had a formulated treatment plan using the available resources from pine belt mental healthcare.
"This program helps participants learn new ways to deal with things," said licensed family therapist and Hattiesburg Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden. "It can give them the support that they need as they are meeting those challenges of change. It absolutely transforms lives, it saves lives, I'm very grateful for this program."
The behavioral health court is the first of its kind in the state of Mississippi.
"We know statistically that about 75% of people relapse after their first treatment," Dryden said. "When you have this kind of program that accompanies treatment then their recidivism rate really declines. The success rate is very encouraging."
Judge Evans oversaw the program in it's entirety and offered words of encouragement to the graduates. "During the course of the last year-and-a-half you've given me your respect and participated in the program, and during the course of that you all gained my respect," Evans told the graduates. "It's just like being the father of a newborn, it just makes me so proud to see y'all come through and complete the program."
According to court's official brochure, this program was established as a response to the growing number of people with mental illness entering and remaining within the criminal justice system. It functions as a partnership between the city, it's Municipal Court, the Hattiesburg Police Department, the district attorneys office, the public defenders office and Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources.