D.A. Sharpens Focus On Mental Health: With New Specialty Court In Place, Office Seeks More Funding For Cape And Islands

by Ryan Bray
Cape and Islands District Attorney Rob Galibois told the select board in Orleans last week that he is making a push for more funding for his office. Some of that money if awarded would go to further invest in mental health resources. Cape and Islands District Attorney Rob Galibois told the select board in Orleans last week that he is making a push for more funding for his office. Some of that money if awarded would go to further invest in mental health resources.

ORLEANS – The Northwest District Attorney’s Office in Western Massachusetts serves the same population as Cape Cod, almost to the person. But Cape and Islands District Attorney Rob Galibois last week said the difference in funding between that office and his is millions of dollars.

Speaking to the select board on June 26, Galibois said he plans to make the case for why his office should be funded on par with districts the same size. That additional money, if awarded, would be put in part toward boosting the office’s mental health resources.

“My hope is to come back before you in the fall if you will allow and say ‘This is what we would do, this is what it will cost,’” Galibois told the board last week.

In fiscal 2023, the Northwest district, which includes the city of Northampton, had a budget of approximately $8.5 million, Galibois said. Comparatively, the Cape and Islands district’s budget that year was approximately $5.5 million. Since then, he said the funding gap between the two offices has grown to about $3.4 million.

“So you can imagine the level of services that that DA can provide to his constituents that I’m unable to do,” he said.

Increasing the D.A.’s office’s mental health resources was a priority for Galibois upon assuming the role of district attorney in January 2023. In September, the Massachusetts Trial Court, alongside Barnstable District Court Judge John Julian, launched a mental health court out of district court designed to pair qualifying individuals in the court system with the mental health services they need.

The twice-monthly specialty court is presided over by Barnstable District Court Judge Therese Wright. A screening committee made up of the court’s probation officer, mental health professionals and Assistant District Attorney Shaunna Souve, who is charged with prosecuting mental health court cases, reviews applications submitted by attorneys on behalf of clients who might qualify for the specialty court.

Once accepted, persons in the mental health court program work with licensed professionals and case workers to identify their underlying mental health issues and put them on a path toward treatment.

“And as we all know, once you make that identification you can then treat that issue and hopefully reduce recidivism, making us all safer,” Galibois told the select board.

While the court operates out of Barnstable, Galibois said cases in Falmouth and Orleans district courts can be referred to the new mental health court.

The establishment of the mental health court marks a good first step for the district, Galibois said, noting that the Cape and Islands was the only district in the state that did not have a specialty court dedicated to mental health. But he said there’s still more to be done. With additional funding, he said his office can continue to build on the specialty court’s early successes.

Galibois said this summer, staff in his office will explore and itemize different ways in which the additional funding would be used if awarded in future budgets. That could include the hiring of at least three licensed social workers to address a number of issues on the Cape and Islands, including hate incidents that occur in the region’s schools.

“We have honestly too many cases to count involving hate in school districts across the Cape and the Islands,” he said. Outside of mental health, additional funding could be dedicated to helping investigate and prosecute fraud cases involving the region’s elderly population.

The issue of mental health is one that town officials have been grappling with for some time. Select board members have stressed the need for more resources to help local residents, including town staff with the police and fire departments.

But with the number of mental health resources on the Cape lacking, finding a way to tackle the issue at the local level has been difficult, board member Mefford Runyon said.

“It’s recognized as an amazingly needed resource,” he said. “Anything that you could give us guidance with or provide ideas on about how to start would be appreciated.”

And as the D.A.'s office makes its push to further its commitment to mental health, select board member Kevin Galligan urged Galibois to also look after the well being of his own staff as part of that process.

“Some of the cases they deal with, their own mental health must be an issue,” he said. “I just leave you with the point to make sure that they get the care they need too.”

The increased focus on mental health is evidence of broader focus in the D.A.’s office beyond strictly prosecuting criminal cases, Galibois said. He estimated that approximately 80 percent of cases that come through Barnstable District Court involve either mental health, substance abuse or both, and added that getting to the root of the core issues driving those cases is critical.

“If we start honing our skills and attention to the exact problem that people are grappling with, we can try to treat it and keep them out of the system, making us all safer,” he said.