Friday, November 21, 2014
NorCo Mental Health Court to Start in 2015
When Steve Baratta was a lowly District Attorney in John Morganelli's office, he used to tell his boss how helpful a Mental Health County could be in Northampton County, Now, as President Judge, he'll be in charge of it. DA John Morganelli, along with Judge Baratta and County Executive John Brown, have announced the formation of a Mental Health Court. It goes into business next year. Judge Baratta called it a "real problem-solving court." It will be administered by him and Judge Craig Dally.
"For far too long, I witnessed individuals who are truly mentally ill enter the criminal justice system," explained Morganelli. "I am not talking about those who commit a horrendous crime such as a homicide and then feign mental illness in order to escape responsibility. I am talking about individuals who have a life long history of mental illness and also commit most often misdemeanor crimes and summary offenses over and over again, which brings them into the system.
Morganelli spoke in particular of veterans "who have placed their lives on the line" overseas,only to return home to face inner demons far more sinister than any other enemy. Certain kinds of crimes, particularly felony crimes of violence or felony drug offenses, would be excluded, he explained.
Currently, there are 17 mental health courts in Pennsylvania The concept was formally proposed by Morganelli in February, After that, President Judge Baratta conducted several meetings involving law clerks, assistant DAs and representatives of the Administration.
Morganelli will personally screen applications, which are available in his office. Judges Baratta and Dally will then administer the program, twice a week. They will provide classic mental health treatment, along with housing opportunities, for up to 25 people in the first year. "Our job will be to make sure people are complying with mental health needs, he explained.
No new resources are needed for this project, noted Morganelli, "The hope is that there will be some savings to the County." Baratta added.
Like Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), a special program for first offenders in which charges are dismissed after a successful period of probation, charges against mentally ill people who are successful in the program will avoid a record that often prevents them from getting a job
Pledging his support, Executive Brown called the Mental Health Court a "team effort right from the beginning."