New mental health court in Phila

    Philadelphia now has a mental health court – its mission is to get non-violent offenders with mental illnesses out of jail and into treatment.

    Philadelphia now has a mental health court – its mission is to get non-violent offenders with mental illnesses out of jail and into treatment.
    (Photo: Flickr/Joe Gratz)

    Listen:

    [audio:090707mscourt.mp3]

    Created in collaboration with Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health, the new court will identify non-violent offenders who are currently serving a jail term or awaiting sentencing for minor charges. Each offender will receive counseling, therapy and services for at least one year. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery says offering treatment instead of jail terms cuts down on recidivism – and cost:

    McCaffery: People that are given the kind of treatment they need for whatever their illness may be do not come back through the system. One of the things you have to remember is we’re now saving lots and lots of money, because it costs money to put people in jail.

    McCaffery, a former police officer, has been a long-time supporter of mental health courts, says they offer an alternative for people who have run into trouble with the law because of their mental illness.

    McCaffery: We want to identify them, we want to get them the right treatment, and we want to have people who are overseeing them make sure they continue with their medication, get them back with their families, and keep them out of our jail cells, because the last place you want to put somebody with mental illness is in jail.

    Judge Sheila Woods Skipper will lead the mental health court, she agrees with McCaffery:

    Skipper: They need to be re-integrated back into society, so the interest is you give them the services and the treatment that they need to be successful so that they don’t become a revolving door in and out of prison.

    Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham says each offender in the program will be strictly monitored to make sure they are complying with all aspects of their treatment.

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