Alternative Health Court Offers Opportunity for Change

Tags: Currents, Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Inspiration, Queens, NY

By Emily Drooby

Applause and congratulations are sounds rarely heard in court, but  at Brooklyn Mental Health Court, they’re the norm.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an estimated 2,000,000 people with mental illness are booked into jails every year.

Alternative health courts have been popping up across the country. They allow people with serious and persistent mental illnesses to be linked with long-term treatment plans in lieu of being sent to prison.

Currents News spoke with Catholic Judge Matthew D’Emic, who presides over Brooklyn’s program — the first in New York State.

“It’s just a different way of working in the court system,” Judge D’Emic explains. “In a small way I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to participate in the love that God has for all his creation.”

Fishel Sherman is one of those people. The recent graduate used to abuse his children.

Now, he says he’s a different person.

Sherman explained, “No question about it, it saved me.” He added, “I really desperately needed it, if they would have been any way differently, I wouldn’t have made it.”

These types of courts aren’t without their criticism especially when it comes to violent offenders. Many fear having them out on the street.

“I can understand how people might feel that violent criminals should not be given a second chance or a chance to redeem themselves, over 17 years of doing this I feel like that is wrong-headed. and I have seen the success of people and their ability to change their lives, Judge D’Emic explained.

Judge D’Emic invites any critics to court. That way they see the program isn’t easy. Participants have to stick to a specially designed treatment plan and they have weekly check ins with the judge.

“I can just imagine how many people walk out of here saying wow I am so lucky it must be that way with everybody, this place saves everybody’s lives,” said Sherman.

D’Emic says their success rate is over 70 percent.