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More funds sought for mental evaluations in county court system

The county needs more money to cover mental evaluations in the court system, an expense that might double this year compared to 2017.
At its last July meeting, the Harrison County Council unanimously voted to give the court another $20,000 to cover the costs of the procedure. The county had budgeted $20,000 for the year, which has already been spent.
Harrison County Superior Court Judge Joseph (Joe) Claypool brought up the financial shortfall at the council’s July 9 meeting. At that time, the court had already spent more than $18,400 for the year on mental and psychological evaluations. It also had a bill for more than $1,900, putting the county over its budgeted total, with four more cases on the horizon.
‘This is something we don’t have a choice of providing,’ Claypool said to the council.
The mental evaluations are used to determine if an alleged criminal is incompetent to stand trial.
Council president Gary Davis asked the judge why there’s a greater need this year to run these tests.
‘We probably have more people who the attorneys feel their clients are not competent to aid them in their representation,’ the judge explained.
Claypool said if an attorney asks for the mental evaluation for a client, the county must have it done. It can cost $1,500 for each evaluation.
‘The attorneys aren’t abusing this at this point,’ he added.
If a person is deemed not fit to stand trial, some are sent to a mental institution in northern Indiana where their mental health is addressed. Some can improve to a point where they can stand trial. Others can be committed to the institution and never improve enough to take the stand in a courtroom.
It can take six to 12 months to improve someone’s mental health at the institution.
Claypool said close to half of the evaluations come back with the mental health doctors determining the person is not competent to stand trial.
It’s an expense that has cost the county more and more in recent years.
Councilman Donnie Hussung said the county budgeted $20,000 in 2016 for mental evaluations, with the county spending $8,550. In 2017, the same amount was requested, but the council isn’t sure how much was spent.
When the county was creating the 2018 budget last year, Claypool had requested $25,000. The county cut the total to $20,000.
‘People are getting either sicker or less competent,’ Claypool said.