SUPREME COURT CRIMINAL JUSTICE/MENTAL HEALTH TASK FORCE COMPLETING STRATEGIC PLAN
For more than a year, the Delaware Supreme Court Task Force on Criminal Justice and Mental Health, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Henry duPont Ridgely, has been gathering information on issues faced by people with mental illnesses and exploring ways to both help individuals with mental illnesses avoid contact with the criminal justice system and to improve outcomes for people with mental illnesses already engaged with the system. To help them accomplish these goals, the Task Force undertook two major projects this fall.
In mid-October, the Task Force held a series of three public forums, one in each county. Through these forums, the Task Force reached out to the community to gather concerns and observations about the criminal justice system’s handling of individuals with mental health issues. Representatives from the courts as well as other agencies including the Department of Justice, the Department of Correction, law enforcement and treatment providers were on hand not only to gather information but also to answer questions.
On October 30th, the Task Force met for a full day strategic planning session. Using the information gained from the public forums and by the Task Force subcommittees over the past year, the Task Force began work on a strategic plan that encourages inter-agency cooperation as well as community and government partnerships. Assisted by the Council of State Governments and Tim Murray, Executive Director of the Pre-Trial Justice Institute, the Task Force used the Sequential Intercept Model to identify a number of intercept points in the criminal justice system that are opportunities for linking people to appropriate services and preventing further penetration into the system.
The Task Force and its subcommittees recently finalized the strategic plan which is designed to provide a comprehensive blueprint for both diverting individuals with mental illnesses, when appropriate, and improving outcomes for those with mental illnesses who have already come into contact with the criminal justice system. The plan seeks the cooperation of the courts, law enforcement, state agencies and community service providers in working together to identify individuals with mental illnesses so that they can better ensure that the appropriate treatment is received either in the community, or where diversion is not appropriate, in the criminal justice system.
When individuals with mental illnesses do not receive proper treatment, they are more likely to cycle in and out of the criminal justice system. Diverting appropriate individuals and ensuring that those with mental illnesses receive effective treatment can not only reduce crime and increase public safety, but can also reduce costs to the State as well as to communities and families. The work of the Task Force is only the first step in addressing these critical issues. The ongoing efforts of the courts, law enforcement, state agencies and community service providers are all needed to improve outcomes for persons with mental illness.