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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, July 14, 2017

Judge Dally Discusses Problem Solving Courts

Judge Craig Dally
There are currently 106 problem-solving courts in 44 counties, a 300% increase since 2007. Northampton County's Problem Solving Court celebrated its second anniversary in April. Judge Craig Dally updated NorCo Council yesterday on how this approach is working. There are basically two courts. The first is Drug Court, which is available to persons who have already been convicted. The second is Mental Health Court, which is for persons who have been charged with minor crimes in which their mental challenges play an appreciable role.

Drug Court

There are currently 44 participants (76% male and 24% female) in this four-phase program, which lasts from 18-24 months. There have been five graduates. The average age is 29, and the drug choice is heroin. This program is for people who have had repeated treatment attempts and repeated criminal activity. "But for the program, they'd either be in our jail or the state prison," said Judge Dally. He added that the reason there have been only five graduates is because the program has only existed for two years.

That also makes it difficult to determine whether a successful graduate returns to crime, which is called recidivism. Judge Dally conceded he has insufficient data to make any claim about his court. But nationally, he noted that the 1-year recidivism rate of drug court graduates is just 17%,and the two year recidivism rate is only 27%.

Without a drug court, the recidivism rate of a drug offender is 60-80%.

A condition of graduation from drug court is payment if all fines, court costs and restitution. The five graduates have paid over $15,000 in costs, fines and restitution. This compares favorably to many defendants who never pay a penny.

Drug courts also reduce costs of housing at the jail. Based on the per diem cost of an inmate, Judge Dally estimates that Drug Court has saved taxpayers $944,000 thus far.

Judge Dally told Council that, in a drug court, participants are working, going to school and working on their recovery. This court is also a benefit to different county agencies who work together, like Drug and Alcohol. The community saves money because it lowers the tax burden and enables members to work and raise their families, instead of leaning on others. All must be employed. "We're trying to encourage them to be responsible citizens," said the Judge.

Almost all the funding for this court comes from insurance companies, Medicaid and grants. The county does pay for transitional housing.

The drug court meets once every week, and there are usually ten hearings. People in this court are tested twice weekly.

Mental Health Court

Unlike Drug Court, which is for people who have already been convicted, mental health court is diversionary. What this means is that charges are dismissed on successful completion of a program. There must be a direct correlation between mental illness and criminal activity. Also, the District Attorney must recommend he participant.

Thus far, there have been 12 graduates. There are only 10 participants, and seven are men. The average age is 42.

Judge Dally said the courts are also considering a post-conviction court for mentally ill defendants.

Participants usually include persons who assaulted family members or who engage in shoplifting.

According to Judge Dally, this court adds little appreciable cost to the county.

There are also times when participants are both addicted and mentally ill. Judge Dally discussed a person he actually removed from drug court and sent to jail today. He has been in foster care or jail since he was nine years old. "He's been institutionalized his entire life, and we had to institutionalize him,"said Dally. "There's got to be a better way."

Hayden Phillips complained that the state reduced the number of mental hospitals,and then wonder about a mental health problem. "There's no place to go with these people," agreed Judge Dally.

Seth Vaughn asked Judge Dally about establishing a veterans' court. He said it is being considered, but questions whether there is enough of a demand.


Anonymous said...

Great presentation by Judge Dally. It is too bad it went over the heads of most of these council people. All they can do is bemoan their impotence at taking any pro-active actions. It would be nice to have people who understand how this impacts the county as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Dally is the be commended for leading this effort.

Anonymous said...

Hope the County can do a veterans court, but I guess it is a good thing there might not be a need.

Anonymous said...

This is a very positive approach to remediating the addiction scourge.

Anonymous said...

Progress..at last. Bravo to the court and the DA for making this happen.

Anonymous said...

@ 3:50am

County Council has zero input into this, the courts are a separate branch of government, what do you propose they wrap their heads around?

Exactly what do you mean by your comments?

Do YOU even know how county government works or are you too busy posting on boards at 3am to pay attention to what you bemoan ?

Anonymous said...

Teabagger at 9:15 sounds angry. Too bad he supports an impotent county council.