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State Legislatures Magazine Q and A with Nevada

 Q & A with Nevada Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie


April 2007

Nevada Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie is the the specialty courts coordinator for the District Court in Reno. She shed some light on mental health courts in her area.

SL:  Nevada is moving forward at a quick pace with mental health courts. How is it a good fit?

Assemblywoman Leslie: Nevada is one of the nation's fastest growing states and one with transient populations of people in its cities. Mental health courts began in my district in Reno in 2001. Two years later a mental health court was started in Las Vegas and now Carson City has one as well. There are differences among those courts, but they share the same objective of providing services in lieu of jailing offenders with mental health problems. Unfortunately, Nevada is a methamphetamine capital. We find that 80 percent of our clients with mental health problems also have a substance abuse issue. Very often they are using meth.

SL: Do the transients include homeless people?

Assemblywoman Leslie: Yes, many of our clients are homeless and we have had great success with this population. We are able to provide both emergency and transitional housing, even up to two years for some clients. A strong housing component is essential to success of the mental health court.  The homeless mentally ill are very difficult cases. But with housing assistance and treatment services, we find many clients can begin to work and take care of themselves. There are plenty of jobs in Reno for people who are able to work. For others we help them get disability payments and stabilize them in an affordable housing situation.

SL: How else can you characterize clients of mental health courts?

Assemblywoman Leslie: While we do deal with transient people, we also find that many of our mental health court clients grew up here. Many started having psychotic issues much earlier on in their life than their contact with the court. Many of our clients are veterans. Some are victims of domestic violence. Some have such a troubled past that they have alienated family and friends. Mental health court becomes a last stop for them. Despite their mental illness, despite ending up in criminal court, the mental health court shows them that, perhaps for the first time in a long time, someone cares.

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