Collaboration between Hamilton Center and Courts Results in Hundreds of Second Chances

Celebration of 20 years of PAIR

On Friday November 22, 2019 Hamilton Center hosted a celebration of the Psychiatric Assertive Identification and Referral (PAIR) program, which has served the community for 20 years. PAIR is a Terre Haute City Court diversion program designed to address the needs of people with mental illness who have been charged with misdemeanors, or minor criminal offenses.

One of the first programs of its kind in Indiana, the Vigo County PAIR program started in late 1999 through a collaboration between Terre Haute City Court and the community mental health center, Hamilton Center, Inc. Key players in the creation of the program include Judge David Bolk, formerly of the Terre Haute City Court; former Prosecutor, now Judge Sarah Mullican, of the Circuit Court and Superior Court 3; Virgil Macke, LCSW, LCAC, therapist at Hamilton Center; and David Green, former Case Manager at Hamilton Center.

“It was important that we work to address the underlying mental health or substance abuse issues of those who were arrested due to those illnesses,” said Judge Bolk, formerly of the Terre Haute City Court. “Our goal was twofold – decrease the burden on the courts, jail, and budgets while helping people get the help they need to be successful in the community,” he added.

In the 20 years of PAIR, the program has served over 800 individuals and grown from serving groups as small as a just a few individuals to serving 65 participants last year, and an estimated 85 in 2019. Misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of one year, and with a 75 percent success rate the program allows individuals charged with a misdemeanor to opt into mental health treatment rather than serve jail time. Once treatment is completed, as prescribed by the courts, charges are dropped and records unaffected.

“The program works under the philosophy that that people who receive mental health services in lieu of incarceration, can achieve recovery and not reoffend,” said Judge Matthew Sheehan, currently of the Terre Haute City Court. “Ultimately we are working to decrease recidivism, burdens on the courts, and use of tax dollars,” he added.

Additionally, the program has acted as the foundation and spring-board for many other court problem solving and diversion programs including Adult Mental Health Court (similar to PAIR but for those with felonies), Drug Court, and Veteran’s Court.

“All of these problem solving courts are giving hundreds of individuals’ second chances to turn their lives around and be active and productive members of their communities,” said Melvin L. Burks, CEO of Hamilton Center.  “It is critical we give people second chances,” he added.

“I am appreciative to our criminal justice partners who understand that mental health issues need addressed, and that recovery is possible,” said Virgil Macke, therapist at Hamilton Center and PAIR Coordinator.  “It takes strong collaboration to be successful in a program like this,” he added.

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