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The Delaware Mental Health Court Program is an interagency effort to screen, identify, treat and divert misdemeanor offenders in need of mental health services. Offenders with a possible mental illness are referred early in the adjudication process to the Mental Health Court Program’s clinical case manager. The clinical case manager assesses the offender using the Locus and other assessment instruments to ensure that the offender has an Axis I diagnosis (criteria for eligibility) prior to their enrollment in the Mental Health Court. The clinical case manager is targeted to manage up to 30 offenders at any given time with referrals being made to the appropriate community services. The Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, has designated staff both in their Community Mental Health and Treatment Access Centers (TASC) to work on this project. In addition, the Court of Common Pleas provides judicial oversight and monitors the progress of offenders enrolled in the Mental Health Court through the designated Court of Common Pleas Judge. The Deputy Attorney General and Public Defender assigned to the project work together to ensure that client rights are represented and legal issues addressed.
The value of the program is seen in the improvements made in accessing community mental health services; relief in prison overcrowding; reduction in clinical and legal recidivism and improved public safety.
The formal start-up of the program was in November 2003. As of December 31, 2006, for example, the program has served one hundred thirty nine offenders with one hundred twenty one volunteering to enter the program. The program length is determined by the offender’s progress but with a minimum of fourteen (14) weeks participation. All participants are given a handbook outlining both the court and participants responsibilities while involved in the program. Offenders return to court on a regular basis for status hearings before the Mental Health Court Judge. Sanctions and incentives are imposed by the Judge according to the offender’s progress in the program.
The first graduation ceremony took place in May of 2004 with two individuals successfully completing the program. These participants voluntarily agreed to meet with the media to discuss their experience with the diversion program. Subsequently, the News Journal printed an article outlining the program and the individual participants’ successes. As of December 2006, 92% (53 of 57) of those offenders who successfully completed the program did not incur new convictions within six months of graduating; seven (7) individuals were terminated for failure to comply with the program requirements.
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