SCHENECTADY — Schenectady County Drug Court will be able to better assess participants' mental health issues with the help of a $400,000, three-year grant, according to program officials.
The county drug court received the grant earlier this month from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance, drug court coordinator Ronald Butler said.
The grant is to fund the hiring of a person at Ellis Hospital who will be part of the drug court team, allowing faster assessment of incoming drug court participants, as well as providing evaluations to those already in the program, Butler said.
Program officials check for mental health issues when a participant enters the program, but such issues sometimes don't surface until later, as the drug issues are treated, Butler said.
"When it happens that way, you can't get people in a timely fashion to have an assessment," Butler said. "Now, with this grant being awarded, we'll be able to do that."
Schenectady County's drug court started in 2001, under then-Judge Michael C. Eidens, with the goal of diverting low-level offenders whose offenses are fueled by drugs. The program gets them into treatment programs. If participants complete the program successfully, they can have their sentences reduced to probation, as well as getting tools to live law-abiding lives. If they fail to complete the program, they face jail time for their offenses.
There are about 115 participants enrolled in the program now. The program lasts one to two years, and the average length of stay is 15 months.
Judge Matthew Sypniewski now presides over the court.
Butler applied for the grant with his case managers, Craig Richards and Ashley Pollock.
The new employee will work at Ellis, rather than directly with the drug court. Butler said he hopes the three years of funding for the position will prove the need for the position, allowing it to continue.
The hospital has already put someone temporarily in the post, while a full-time person is sought, Butler said. The person will also participate in the drug court team meetings, Butler said.
The assessments could also determine if participants are better suited to the county's Alternative Treatment Court, which deals with mental health issues, Butler said.
Sypniewski, who took over the court earlier this year from retiring Judge Vincent J. Reilly Jr., said this week he is thankful for the grant.
"We're extremely grateful that we received the grant," Sypniewski said. "We're going to make good use of it."