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Delaware Docket Newsletter
Fall 2011

Delaware Courts Selected as Pilot Site for Mental Health Court Project

"This grant is a wonderful opportunity for our State. The technical assistance our Mental Health Courts will receive will undoubtedly improve our ability to address the over-representation of individuals with mental illness. Our Mental Health Courts are excited to pilot the curriculum developed by policymakers, practitioners, and expert advisors from around the country".
      Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden, who launched and presides over the first felony level Mental Health Court in Delaware.

The Delaware Courts were selected by the Council of State Governments Justice Center (Justice Center) through the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) as a pilot site for their Developing a Mental Health Court: An Interdisciplinary Curriculum project. The program offers technical assistance in developing a curriculum for best practices for the Mental Health Courts in Delaware. The curriculum consists of eight modules that provide practitioners with basic information about mental health court program elements, design and operation considerations, and background in relevant criminal justice and behavioral health concepts.

In selecting Delaware Courts, the BJA noted that the commitment to the success of the Mental Health Courts in Delaware distinguished Delaware's application from the very competitive application pool which was submitted by numerous states of all sizes and jurisdictions from all regions of the country. A Delaware representative will participate in train-the-trainer sessions sponsored by the Justice Center and BJA on the Mental Health Courts' best practices curriculum. The curriculum will be presented, on a pilot basis, in Delaware in early 2012.

"The state is grateful to the Bureau of Justice Assistance for being selected to participate in its Mental Health Court Curriculum Pilot Site Program. For Delaware, this is another critical step forward in our commitment to providing community-based services for people with mental illnesses. The option for judges to order mental health treatment for some offenders rather than jail will be an important way to improve the lives of those with mental illnesses, while ensuring public safety and using the state's resources most effectively," said Rita Landgraf, Secretary of the State Department of Health and Social Services.

Delaware Courts have long recognized the benefits of addressing defendants' mental health issues through the criminal justice process and the important role that courts that focus on mental health issues can play. Delaware's Mental Health Courts include:

"I have really been encouraged by the Courts' understanding of the importance of treating mental health conditions. Mental Health Courts play a critical role in diverting people from incarceration to treatment and have a proven track record of success. Delaware can be very proud of the recognition by the Bureau of Justice Administration for the work that the courts have done in our state."
      Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden, who launched and presides over the first felony level Mental Health Court in Delaware
  • Superior Court, with a felony-level pre-adjudication diversion and probation mental health court in New Castle County. 142 defendants participated in that Court in FY 2010 and 2011. Felony-level post-adjudication and probation mental health courts operate in Kent and Sussex Counties, and a veterans' court in Kent County addresses mental health and addiction issues of defendants who are veterans.
  • Family Court, with a pre-adjudication diversion mental health court for juveniles charged with delinquency in New Castle County. That court began in January 2007, with 125 juveniles entering the program, and 71 graduating, since then.
  • Court of Common Pleas, with a misdemeanor pre-adjudication diversion mental health court in New Castle County. 263 defendants have entered the New Castle County CCP mental health court since its inception through FY 2011. CCP plans to expand the mental health court statewide in FY 2012.

Since late 2008, the Delaware Supreme Court's Task Force on Criminal Justice and Mental Health, with representatives from the courts, prosecutors, public defenders, state agencies and community organizations, has focused on improving system-wide responses to persons with mental illness involved in the criminal justice system, as well as preventing such persons from entering or re-entering the system. The Task Force uses inter-branch communication, collaboration and resource allocation as critical tools to accomplish its goals.