The defendants in Courtroom 151P couldn't look more different: Men and women, old and young. Black, white and brown skin creased by wrinkles or adorned with tattoos.
But they share an invisible trait — mental illness — that often sends them careening smack into a city ordinance. Then they ricochet, again and again, into jail. Or detox. Or the emergency room.
Now, following more than 250 examples nationwide and several in Colorado, Denver is beginning to see progress more than halfway through a three-year program that seeks to put select nonviolent, mentally ill offenders into treatment instead of behind bars.
An analysis by the program, called Court to Community, found the first 41 participants accounted for 1,873 jail days prior to entering the program. One year into the program, that figure for those same people had dropped to 376 jail days.
Estimated savings: Nearly $105,000 — a figure that, theoretically, would multiply each year the participants stay out of trouble.
"How's it goin', judge?" asked one defendant, stepping to the podium on a Thursday for his regular progress report.
"You're smiling today," said County Court Judge Larry Bohning, who presides over the weekly mental-health docket. "How're things going with you?"
For the most part, it is a relaxed atmosphere, with Assistant City Attorney Bob Reynolds advising the judge of an individual's successes or missteps and then offering either encouraging words or suggestions for remedial action.
When their status has been discussed and their next appearance set, the participants select a snack from a basket in the courtroom.