Giving hope to criminal offenders with mental illness

The Behavioral Health Docket is for people with minor offenses, needing mental help

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Some criminal offenders end up in the justice system time and time again. But now in Lynchburg, there’s a way to avoid jail time.

“People need to be diverted from the criminal justice system simply because they have a serious mental illness,” Chief Public Defender Aaron Boone.

It’s called a Behavioral Health Docket — but it’s not for everyone.

10 News spoke with Renee Roberts, the Behavioral Health Docket Coordinator with the Public Defender’s Office to get a better idea of why it’s needed.

“It came to be because we have always seen individuals with severe mental health illness come through the criminal justice system — I’d say there was a significant increase after COVID, so we all were just kind of getting tired of seeing the same people repeat through,” Roberts said.

Horizon Behavioral Health Program Manager Gerrie Hodge tells us when mental illness goes untreated in offenders, it can only make the problem grow.

“The more time somebody spends in jail, especially if they are untreated, their quality of life is being brought down by not having the intensive mental health services,” Hodge said.

The program is a collaboration between law enforcement, Horizon, the court system, and more.

Hodge said so many agencies working together makes getting help more accessible.

It’s for people with minor offenses, who can be referred by law enforcement or any number of people.

Officials said the hope is to help them avoid jail time altogether.

“Where appropriate, we’re trying to give these people the opportunity to get their charges dismissed, get the services they so desperately need to improve their individual lives and the community,” Boone said.

But they want people to know the program isn’t an easy fix.

“It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card. They have to be active participants in their treatment,” Hodge said.

They must complete the program, which includes treatment, meeting with peer recovery specialists, updating a judge on their progress, and more.

“It’s a way to avoid incarceration, avoiding stacking any more offenses onto their criminal history,” Boone said.

There are also Behavioral Health Docket programs in Roanoke and Montgomery County.

About the Author

Abbie Coleman officially joined the WSLS 10 News team in January 2023.

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