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Retiring Coos County judge's mental health court changed the lives of many

Coos County Judge Paula Bechtold (SBG)

NORTH BEND, Ore. -- Coos County's first female judge is retiring at the end of the month and one of her creations - a mental health court - helped one woman turn her life around.

After 23 years as a judge in Coos County, Paula Bechtold is leaving the bench at the end of this month.

She says she’s proud of the mental health court she started, which has helped people with mental illnesses instead of sending them through the justice system.

"When people are deemed dangerous to themselves or others, or unable to care for themselves, a lot of those people, if they just had more hands-on support and help, could probably get their lives back in order," said Judge Bechtold.

And that was the case for Penny Peters, who had been diagnosed with type one bipolar disorder.

"I had some delusional behavior that was happening and some run-ins with people in general,” recalled the mental health court graduate. “My behavior was fairly extreme so it was scary to other people, so I think they would call the police and that's how I ended up in jail."

Facing several charges, Peters was able to opt for mental health court.

After 18 months in the program, she says her life changed for the better: “I got my GED, I'm now in college, I have 4.0, and the judge all along the way…the mental health court is really encouraging."

Bechtold says the majority of people who completed the program never reappeared in the criminal system.

Her last day on the bench is Nov. 30. She believes she may have made the biggest difference by starting the mental health court.

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