The Hon. Jacqueline Talevi, chief judge of the Roanoke County General District Court, has pioneered a program that provides sentencing alternatives for individuals diagnosed with serious mental illnesses who have committed misdemeanors.
The court's mental health therapeutic docket was the subject of a feature story in The Roanoke Times last month.
Judge Talevin, a 1983 graduate of the Washington and Lee School of Law, told the Times that she was seeing people with particular issues come before her and that neither punishment nor the threat of more punishment was changing their behavior.
"It wasn't working," she said. "To try to make a different in people's lives and to protect the public, the drug court model seemed successful to me — using a lot of court intervention. Why couldn't it work for the mental health population?"
She added: "I think it has."
Working with Blue Ridge Behavioral Health Care, about 10 people have successfully completed, or graduated, from the program in the 18 months since Judge Talevi began to implement the docket.
Once they finish the program, the judge gives each participate a certificate of completion, a rose and the book, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff."
She told the Times: "It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, to see people grow from a very dark place to graduating from this program," She added, "They've grown in confidence, knowing even though they have a mental health issue, they are making a valuable contribution to our community."