Bucks County breaks ground on new mental health treatment center

The center will divert people with mental illnesses away from incarceration and into treatment. It’s expected to open by the end of 2024.

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Groundbreaking ceremony

Bucks County Commissioners breaking ground on the new mental health diversion center in Doylestown Wednesday. (Courtesy of Bucks County)

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Bucks County commissioners today broke ground on a new mental health treatment center in Doylestown.

The center will sit next to the Bucks County Correctional Facility and will help the county divert mental health patients away from the carceral system and into the treatment facility.

Bucks County’s Correctional Facility.
Bucks County’s Correctional Facility. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The seriously mentally ill shouldn’t be in jail, said Bucks County Commissioner Vice Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia. “We have corrections officers who were taught to deal with people who have engaged in criminal activity,” she said. “They’re not mental health professionals.”

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The county has been planning the project since 2016 and construction is expected to start mid-August. Donna Duffy-Bell, administrator of the county’s Behavioral Health and Development Programs, said the center should start receiving patients by the end of 2024.

Duffy-Bell said the center will offer an alternative to incarcerated persons and law enforcement agencies. Instead of jail time, judges can set bail and release a person to the diversion center; the facility can also serve as a re-entry program to aid people out of the prison.

“Judges don’t often have a lot of options for individuals, and so by default individuals stay incarcerated or go to incarceration,” Duffy-Bell said. “This gives our community and our system more options to appropriately treat people and keep them out of institutionalization.”

Donna Duffy-Bell speaking at a podium
Donna Duffy-Bell, administrator of the county’s Behavioral Health and Development Programs. (Courtesy of Bucks County)

In the last year, two incarcerated individuals with mental illnesses have sued the county alleging mistreatment inside the county jail.

Last year, Kim Stringer’s parents sued after she was pepper-sprayed and placed in a restraint chair. Mubarak Alexander is also suing the county, alleging correctional facility employees used excessive force while he was detained in the mental health unit in 2018. Alexander claimed that Bucks County fails to train its correctional officers on how to interact with prisoners with mental illnesses.

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A rendering of the county’s new Diversion, Assessment, Restoration and Treatment Center. (Courtesy of Bucks County)

There were also three deaths by suicide inside the jail in 2022.

Duffy-Bell said the center will house up to 28 people at a time. Patients can receive treatment up to a year.

The county allocated money from American Rescue Plan Act funds and utilized state and federal grants to pay for the $16.5 million project.

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