PROVO — It may sound like a weak punishment for a felony abuse charge, but for one woman, mental health court — not a quick conviction — may be the perfect answer.

Lois Ilene Sorensen was taking care of her 87-year-old mother, Leona, in Palmyra, southwest of Springville, when police discovered severe bruising in December and took the mother to the hospital. Doctors noted internal damage and placed Leona on oxygen and feeding tubes, which were only recently removed.

Sorensen was charged in 4th District Court with a second-degree felony — aggravated abuse of an elderly adult — but rather than rush to trial, prosecutor Doug Finch said a better option for the struggling woman is greater supervision through mental health court.

"We tried to do something special," Finch said. "It's extraordinary, but I think we're committed to do it. We'll have more control over her here (than if) I had convicted her."

Based on Sorensen's minimal criminal history, mental health and disability issues, plus all the time she's already spent in jail, her sentence would be light and she would likely get quickly tossed out of jail or prison and be sent to Adult Probation and Parole for monitoring, Finch said.

But in the mental health court, she can be watched more closely by a case worker, directed to programs and housing options and given medication to help with what her attorney, Lisa Crawford, believes is bipolar disorder.

"(We'll try to get) some structure into her life to prevent this from happening (again)," Finch said. "We're trying to deal with it all, make sure she's not a danger, (but not) throw her out to the wolves and set her up to fail if she can't take care of herself."

Sorensen was previously found mentally competent to proceed, but that review — requested by Finch — alluded to mental health issues that may lead him to be more lenient. He said he'll wait for the result before deciding what charge she will need to plead to.

"How much do I punish her if she is the only one who stood up to take care of mom and it was just so far over her head?" Finch asked.

Sorensen isn't accepted to the program yet, but will start the process by being screened to ensure that she fits the qualifications and can abide by the rules and stipulations of mental health court.

Only those who have a condition improvable with medication are accepted into the program, Crawford said. If her evaluation indicates mental health concerns not acceptable for the program trial is always an option, she said.

Other rules include that Sorensen must have somewhere to live — away from her mother and family members — and come to court weekly to report on her progress to Judge Steven Hansen. She also cannot communicate with her mother, her brothers and sisters and her mother's relatives.

At the end of the mental health court procedure, which can be as long as Sorensen needs help, her charge will be reduced, Finch said, though he's not sure right now what that will be.


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