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ATLANTA (AP) - A metro Atlanta county has started a special court for mentally ill people accused of committing crimes.

Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Karen Beyers held the first session this week of the accountability court. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that about 20 such courts operate across Georgia.

The goal is to provide judicial supervision for people suffering from mental illness so they can avoid jail. Officials hope the Gwinnett court will serve at least 50 people.

Defendants will take two to three years to complete the system. Those who do not comply with its rules can face penalties ranging from reprimands to jail.

Beyers said she wanted to start the court after seeing mentally ill people repeatedly charged with crimes that she believes are a result of their illness.

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