CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The Charlottesville and Albemarle County judicial community is celebrating the success of a new treatment program that prioritizes mental health.

On Tuesday, November 27, Judge Robert Downer recognized the first person to graduate from the Mental Health Therapeutic Docket.

The joint program between the city and county was introduced nine months ago to offer treatment to some misdemeanor offenders with mental health issues rather than sentence them to jail time.

“This program gives qualifying nonviolent offenders an opportunity to get the mental health treatment they deserve,” Robert Tracci, the Albemarle County commonwealth’s attorney, said. “Prisons are not equipped or qualified to provide that type of service, what this does is it gives them the opportunity to get better.”

State Senator Creigh Deeds, who lost his son to a battle with mental health, was the keynote speaker and Delegate Rob Bell also attended the event on Tuesday to show his support.

Press Release from Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney:

The first candidates to complete the newly-established Albemarle Charlottesville Therapeutic Docket will graduate before a Charlottesville District Court today. Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds is the invited speaker at this graduation.

After several months of discussion by a Steering Committee consisting of representatives from Offender Aid and Restoration, the Charlottesville and Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Offices, the Albemarle Charlottesville Public Defender, Region Ten, mental health professionals from Western State, law enforcement, the Charlottesville district court and others, an application for approval of the Therapeutic Docket was submitted to the Virginia Supreme Court in August 2017. This application was approved in March 2018.

Therapeutic, or Mental Health dockets, are judicially-supervised alternative dockets that divert qualifying candidates from incarceration to a judicially-supervised mental health treatment program. With representation from defense counsel, qualifying misdemeanants may enter a plea of guilty and participate in the therapeutic docket supervised by the Therapeutic Treatment Team and district court judge. Upon graduation from the program, charges may be deferred or dismissed.

Following the graduation ceremony, Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci stated: “I am proud of the collective effort that made the Albemarle Charlottesville Therapeutic Docket a reality and look forward to ensuring it realizes the important public safety and mental health treatment goals for which it was established.”

The City of Charlottesville and County of Albemarle helped provide funding for implementation of this program.

The graduation will take place at 3:00 p.m. in Charlottesville District Court. It is asked that any information identifying Therapeutic Docket participants or graduates be redacted from any coverage.