(As Laura Savanelli and Dr. William Vogler of Family Services look on, DA John Morganelli calls for Mental Health Court)
Did you know that Pennsylvania has the 6th highest total number of prisoners in jails and state prisons? That 16% of them suffer from a mental illness? That those with a mental disorder stay behind bars eight times longer than people without mental illnesses who are arrested on identical charges? That one out of every four Americans now suffers from an emotional affliction? That two million of these people are incarcerated every year? It is these revelations that have led Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli to attempt the formation of a Mental Health Court.
Morganelli made this announcement at a February 10 news conference, flanked by representatives of Family Answers, a social services agency located in Allentown. He was also joined by Executive John Brown, Human Services Director Allison Frantz and Mental Health Administrator Wendy Heatley.
Morganelli made clear that mental health courts are nothing new. Currently, there are 17 of them in Pennsylvania.
He explained it would be a pre-trial diversionary program where successful completion or graduation could result in dismissal.
|Mental Health Administrator Wendy Heatley|
Morganelli noted that some patients at the former Allentown State Hospital are making their way through the criminal justice system. Mental Health Administrator Wendy Heatley, who established group homes for many of these former patients, agreed that some are slipping through the cracks.
"We have been seeing some people that have gone out and reoffended," she observed. .
This court would be independent of a drug court or the treatment programs in place for substance abuse. Morganelli hinted that he might advocate a drug court down the road.
This program would exclude most violent or sexual offenses, where protection of the public is an overriding concern.
Though he is leaving the details to court administrators, Morganelli would like to see a program that first and foremost addresses the needs of our veterans. "Our veterans have put their lives on the line for our freedom and we need to do everything possible to help them when they return and often deal with mental illness caused by the trauma of war, physical injury and their overall service to this country," he said.
Morganelli would also like this court to address juvenile matters.
Executive John Brown made no public statement supporting or opposing this idea.
Blogger's Note: This is an updated version of the story that published yesterday at 2:52 pm.