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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Judge Dally Explains Problem-Solving Courts

Judge Craig Dally
Problem solving courts deal proactively with the underlying reasons for criminal behavior. A person with mental illness might harass his or her neighbors. A drug addict might steal from family and friends. Both can and are often sent to jail, but unless the addiction or mental illness is addressed, jails become revolving doors for repeat offenders. It does them or their victims no good. It costs the rest of us money. Soon after he became a judge, Craig Dally recognized that "[w]e could do a better job." He now presides over Northampton County's two problem solving courts, which meet every Thursday at 3 pm. These tribunals address the root cause of criminogenic behavior and are less adversarial than traditional courts. It's too soon to say whether this approach is working, but Judge Dally updated Northampton County Council at its July 20 meeting.

Drug Court

The first of these community courts, Drug Court, was established in April 2015. This court is available for county residents with substance abuse disorders who commit crimes. It is a post-conviction court, meaning it is available to people who have already pleaded guilty. Participation in drug court might be part of probationary sentence or could be offered to eligible probation and parole violators.

It's a four-phase program that starts with electronic monitoring, curfews, weekly reinforcement meetings and drug testing twice every week. Over time, the electronic monitoring and curfews are dropped. Reinforcement meetings become less frequent. But the drug testing, twice a week, continues. Before advancing from one phase to the next, participants must write and read an essay in open court on a designated recovery topic.

During this time, participants are assisted in obtaining housing, education and employment. They are encouraged to attend daily Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, with the goal being 90 meetings in 90 days.

Before graduating, participants must have nine months of sobriety, a decent job, a stable home and must have set up a plan to pay all fines and costs.

It's an 18-24 month program, so there are no graduates at this early stage. But 27 people (60% male) between ages 20 and 50 participate in drug court. Most are heroin addicts.

Though there are no statistics for Northampton County, Judge Dally reports that nationwide, the recidivism rate of drug court graduates is 16% in the first year and 27% in the second. By comparison, the recidivism rates of imprisoned drug users is 60-80%.

Judge Dally told Council that drug court has saved 4,138 prison days, resulting in a cost saving to the county of $423,386.88. In addition, participants have been able to pay $17,813.15 in fines and costs.

Mental Health Court

Northampton's second problem solving court, Mental Health Court, has been in operation since early 2015. Unlike Drug Court, this is a diversionary court, meaning that a person charged with a crime has an opportunity to get the charges dismissed following successful completion of the program. This court exists solely for non-violent offenders with a diagnosed mental illness. There must be a direct correlation between that illness and the criminal activity charged.

There are currently 12 participants in Mental health Court, eight males and four females. They range in age from 21 to 61. Two persons have graduated thus far.

Admission into this program must first be approved by the District Attorney, after which a participant undergoes a clinical assessment. The Court makes the ultimate decision. Like drug court, this program requires attendance at reinforcement hearings and payment of all court costs.Participants are assisted in obtaining stable housing and employment. Special attention is paid to ensuring that prescribed medication is taken and that treatment sessions are attended.

Unlike therapeutic programs offered at the jail, problem solving courts cost the county nothing. It costs $101.73 per day to house an inmate, so these courts actually save money.

The main goal is to stop the revolving door of repeat offenders.


Anonymous said...

Hopefully, long term success will come of these efforts. Judge Dally has certainly taken a keen, dedicated interest in doing so as have the many other personnel assisting in these specialty courts. Now, if someone could just figure out why there seems to be rumored "foot dragging" on the part of certain county officials (NOT Judge Dally) on a recommendation for a veterans court.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Name the officials dragging their feet instead of making everyone guess. I can contact them and discover whether what you say is true. I doubt it is. Judge Dally was specifically asked about a separate veteran;s court. He acknowledged that some veterans have issues, but that there are not enough in this area to warrant a separate court. He added that veterans do participate in his drug and mental health court, and that the VA is involved in those instances.