Philly Opens First Mental Health Court

Some offenders who have mental health illnesses will now get medication and therapy instead of more jail time.

Philadelphia opened its first “Mental Health Court” Wednesday to help inmates who require specialized assistance. Prison is a revolving door for the mentally ill who don’t get their needs met, according to the Capital Times.

Common Pleas Court President Judge Pamela Dembe says the First Judicial District Mental Health Court will provide mental health treatment for eligible prisoners instead of moving them in and out of the prison system.

Philadelphia DA Lynne Abraham told KYW the program is not for all offenders with mental health problems:

"What we're trying to do is to make sure people who can benefit most from outpatient treatment can get it. We're going to look at anybody who qualifies as a nonviolent offender.  Let me put it the other way: nobody who shoots or rapes or robs or does terrible crimes, shoots a police officer or is a molester of children, none of those people are going to qualify."

Close supervision and individualized treatment plans will be given to offenders who do qualify.

The court opened its doors with a pilot group of 15 inmates. The goal of the court is to make sure nonviolent inmates who are about to complete their jail terms have the necessary therapy and supervision lined up to successfully live in the community and not revisit the city’s overburdened courts.

"We can't keep putting people in jail," Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery told "Jail is not the proper place for so many of our citizens. This will save us money, and this as a society is the best thing to do to help people that need it."

An estimated 30 percent of people in Philadelphia’s prison system are there because of mental illness according to McCaffery.

The start-up cost for the mental health court will be funded by a $60,000 state grant. Court employees will be taken from existing probation and mental-health-services agencies.

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