Chester County Mental Health Court offers people accused with a crime a more lenient sentence if they agree to enter Mental Health Court. The first mental health court was established in 1997 in Florida to address the issue of repeat, non-violent offenders that suffer from serious, chronic mental illness. The judges and prosecutors were seeing the same faces and the same cases every couple of years and they wanted to put an end to this, learn about ARD while helping the offenders straighten out their lives. The idea quickly caught on and spread throughout the country. The Mental Health Recovery Court in Chester County was established in 2008. The Court is run through collaboration between the County Criminal Justice System and the Chester County Department of Mental Health. The sectors involved with the program are the Court, Office of Mental Health, Probation Department, District Attorney, Public Defender, County Prison, Pretrial Services, and Crime Victim Services. Judge William Mahon presides over the Mental Health Court, and his caseload is around 80 individuals.
The main goals of the program are to maintain safety and order in society, to rehabilitate mentally-ill offenders through treatment, rather than incarceration, to supply treatment, housing, benefits, and emotional support to offenders, to reduce offenders from breaking the law again, to reduce the issue of overcrowding in prisons, and to boost communications between the criminal justice system and the mental health system. Plea Deals While participation in the Mental Health Court is optional, not all people are qualified for it. Offenders who have committed assault while incarcerated, homicide, sexual offenses, or theft by extortion with threats of violence cannot be accepted into the program. The qualifications required to be accepted into the program are to be diagnosed with a mental illness, being currently charged with committing as misdemeanor or felony in Chester County, and must be willing to abide by the Mental Health Court’s program requirements. If all those requirements are there, then the defendant is screened and must be selected for the program. All cases are viewed on a case-by-case basis. One of the main requirements for the program is that the defendant attends monthly, bimonthly, or trimonthly reinforcement hearings with the judge. Individualized incentives and sanctions are used to reward positive behavior and to address negative behavior from the defendant. The main incentive for offenders to participate in this program is to get the help they truly need, while avoiding jail time.