ABQ Journal Dinelli Guest Opinion Column: “Lawmakers should set up statewide mental health court”; Related Column: Laws, Statistics, and Resources Needed To Create 14th Judicial District Court For Mental Health Commitment Court

On April 14, 2024 the Albuquerque Journal published the below 550 word guest opinion column on the proposal to create a statewide mental health court. Many thanks are given to the Journal for publishing the column.

The Journal guest column is a very abbreviated version of a News and Opinion column published on April 8, 2024 by www.PeteDinell.com entitled “Gov. MLG Says 80% Chance For Special Session; COMMENTARY: Special Session Should Be Convened To Expand Mental Health Court; Create 14th Judicial District Court With 3 Regional Divisions For Mental Health Commitment Hearings; Build Regional Treatment Facilities And Hospitals For Mandatory Treatment”. 

The link to the full news and commentary blog article is here:


Below is the guest column:


HEADLINE: “Lawmakers should set up statewide mental health court”


“Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is saying there’s an 80% chance she will call state lawmakers back to the state Capitol for a special session to approve new public safety laws.

Legislation being discussed includes mandatory sentencing of criminal defendants who are found incompetent to stand trial to mental or behavioral health treatment programs.

A civil commitment process where there would be mandatory treatment of at least 90 days in a state facility setting for mental or behavioral health or drug and chemical dependency is being touted. The state could initiate civil action when family members are unable to have a relative involuntarily held in an in-patient facility.

There are laws on that books that deal with when and under what circumstances formal civil commitment hearings can be initiated for three-day, seven-day and even 30-day observation and diagnostic evaluations for the mentally ill and the drug addicted.

All deal with the civil commitments of those who are a danger to themselves and others. The laws also provide that district attorneys can initiate civil mental health commitment actions for evaluations and treatment and these laws should be expanded.

The Point In Time Survey for the unsheltered for the years 2009 to 2022 reports 46% of the unsheltered suffer from serious mental illness and that 44% of the unsheltered suffer from substance abuse, for a staggering 89% combined total.

In Albuquerque, 30.19% of the unhoused self-report as having a serious mental illness and 25.5% self-reported as substance abusers. New Mexico’s homeless numbers increased 48% in 2023 going from upwards of 2,600 people to 3,842.

The Bernalillo County Second Judicial Court has the only specialized Mental Health Court. It is a state-certified specialty treatment court specifically for individuals whose involvement with the legal system is directly related to an untreated mental health or drug addiction disorder. The court serves individuals charged and/or convicted of felony level charges and provides intervention, treatment and support.

Warehousing the mentally ill or drug addicted who are unhoused in jails for crimes committed is not the answer and it does not address treatment.

There is a need for statewide mental health facilities or hospitals to provide services needed to the unhoused mentally ill or drug-addicted. There exists less than adequate facilities where patients can be referred to for civil mental health commitments and treatment and a need for behavioral health hospital and drug rehabilitation treatment facilities.

The courts must be looked to as part of the solution. A special session of the Legislature for public safety should be for the creation of a statewide Judicial District Mental Health Treatment Court functioning as a mandatory outreach treatment court for the drug-addicted and the mentally ill in a hospital or counseling setting not involving jail incarceration.

Regional divisions located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Las Vegas could be created for mandatory mental health and drug treatment programs.

Creation of a new court system must include funding for district attorneys and public defenders with dedicated personnel resources for the filing and defending of civil mental health commitments as prescribed by law.

A statewide mental health court with mandatory civil commitments will get treatment to those who need it the most, help get the unhoused off the streets and help families with loved ones who resist any mental health treatment.”

Pete Dinelli is a former chief public safety officer, former chief deputy district attorney and former Albuquerque city councilor.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.