What is the Mental Health Court - Competency Program?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 20% of U.S. adults struggle with mental health concerns annually. Roughly 4% of U.S. adults experience “serious mental illness” annually. Nearly 17% of children between the age of six and seventeen will also experience mental health problems. Suicide is now the second most common cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 34.

The number of offenders entering the U.S. criminal justice system with untreated mental illness is higher than ever. There is some disagreement regarding whether this is a new phenomenon. Many feel that traditionally offenders were insufficiently screened for mental health problems. Another related concern is that the majority of offenders struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, which has been exacerbated with the recent opioid crisis.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that more than 60% of the U.S. prison population has a current substance abuse disorder. An additional 20% were intoxicated at the time when their crimes were committed. Pennsylvania legislators have recognized that those with untreated mental health conditions are much more likely to re-offend under the traditional correctional model.

Mental Health Court Data

There are currently 20 local mental health courts across Pennsylvania. Recent data indicates that 56% of participants are successfully discharged according to plan and 78% ultimately do graduate” within two years. The First Judicial District Mental Health Court in Philadelphia employs mental health professionals to assess, treat, and supervise offenders.

The Philadelphia Mental Health Court Competency Program

It is important to recognize that the Mental Health Court Competency Program is not a diversionary program such as the Accelerated Misdemeanor or Domestic Violence Diversion Programs. The defendants are those that have active criminal cases or are serving sentences. These defendants have been determined as “legally incompetent” based on a mental health condition.

Phases of Mental Health Competency Program

  • Defendants undergo a mental health evaluation based on court orders
  • Inpatient mental health treatment occurs at either the Forensic Unit of the Philadelphia Detention Center or Norristown State Hospital
  • Outpatient treatment is typically ordered as a requirement of probation or parole
  • The cases will remain open until competency is no longer an issue
  • There are no “dispositions entered” in the program, thus expungement is inapplicable

Philadelphia Mental Health Court “Reentry” Program

This program is exclusively for those currently serving a sentence or awaiting sentencing for a non-violent felony offense. Those with mental illness undergo treatment and community supervision as an alternative to incarceration. It is designed for offenders willing to enter intensive supervision instead of serving a prison sentence. A Mental Health Court Judge may find that the offender has completed the program and may be released from supervision when:

  • All treatment goals have been met
  • The offender can function independently with continued therapy and/or medication
  • The offender is no risk to themselves or the members of the community

Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney in Philadelphia

Joseph D. Lento provides effective legal representation for clients that are facing misdemeanor and felony-level charges. He carefully analyzes the evidence and circumstances to develop a comprehensive strategy of defense. For a case evaluation, contact the office today at (215) 535-5353.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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