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McHenry County Mental Health Court prepares for graduation

Mental health program rewards nonviolent offenders with 2nd chance

In one arrest, Michelle Ciccarelli was caught stealing a cart full of Christmas wreaths.

Thirty-five wreaths to be exact.

To this day, Ciccarelli can’t explain why she did it, but in some twisted way she’s glad she did. That’s not to say she doesn’t feel remorseful – only that it took hitting rock bottom before the Marengo resident got the help she didn’t realize she needed.

“How do you tell your doctor what you’re going through when you don’t understand what’s going on?” Ciccarelli said. “Unfortunately, it took something like landing in the court program to get what I really needed.”

After a 2011 retail theft arrest, Ciccarelli was accepted into McHenry County’s Mental Health Court. She and seven others are set to graduate Tuesday from the program.

“I feel like I’m riding a bike and the training wheels are being taken off,” she said about completing the program. “It’s exciting because I was so afraid for so long.”

The county’s Mental Health Court is designed for nonviolent defendants diagnosed with mental illness. In lieu of traditional punishment, the program diverts participants to treatment or other judicial recommendations.

Once the program is completed, criminal charges are dropped or reduced.

“The carrot at the end is not only treatment and stability, but all their charges are dropped,” said Scott Block, specialty court administrator in McHenry County.

Ciccarelli, 28, was diagnosed with a mood disorder and attention deficit disorder. She’s now on regulated medication.

She remembers her first appearance in Mental Health Court before McHenry County Judge Charles Weech.

“I felt like I was surrounded by criminals,” she said.

Soon, Ciccarelli made friends and realized she had more in common with her fellow participants than she once thought.

“We’re not lost causes,” she said.

After Tuesday’s ceremony, the Mental Health Court will have graduated 56 participants since its inception in 2007. Of those, seven have re-offended.

The graduation ceremony is open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Courtroom 204.

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