MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION COURTS OFFER NEW SOLUTIONS
National studies have shown that persons with mental health problems are frequently involved in the criminal justice system for minor offenses and do not receive treatment for the underlying causes of their behavior. In Delaware, mental health diversion courts in the Family Court and the Court of Common Pleas are offering new ways to address this situation by offering treatment as an alternative to a criminal conviction.
The recently created Family Court mental health court which started in New Castle County in January 2007 can already point to a number of success stories. The program, which receives federal funding through the Criminal Justice Council, offers juveniles with mental health problems who are charged with delinquency a chance to obtain treatment and avoid being found delinquent. To participate in the program, a juvenile must be approved by the Attorney General’s Office and must plead guilty to the charge. However, the charge will be dismissed if the juvenile successfully completes the program which requires compliance with the individualized treatment plan recommended by their caseworker, as well as other conditions imposed by the court, including attending all required court appearances to review the status of the case. The Court, defense counsel and two case managers (Jimia Redden of the YMCA and Eileen Cozzi-Bodner of Child Mental Health) review the progress of the children, including their educational needs, twice a month and revise the treatment plan as needed.
Martha Claverie, Esquire, a public defender who represents juveniles in the Court, says that the Court has been instrumental in changing lives for many juveniles and cites, as an example, a young man who entered the program as a shy and withdrawn youngster with both mental health and educational problems. One of the first “graduates” of the Court, he turned around his school performance and became more confident and outgoing. Commissioner Loretta Young, who presides over the mental health court calendars, concurs with Ms. Claverie that the diversion program is making an incredible difference in the lives of children. Commissioner Young says: “These children and their family networks are being intensely guided, encouraged, and applauded for their efforts and success and it has yielded dramatic results.” She credits the dedication and skills of all of those involved in the mental health court with making it a success.
Similar successes are also occurring for adults who participate in the Court of Common Pleas mental health court which has been in operation since 2003. Located in New Castle County, the court was Delaware’s first mental health court and works to provide treatment to adults with mental health problems who are charged with a misdemeanor offense. Since its inception, 109 individuals have completed the program and have been diverted from the criminal justice system, with only 11 individuals having been unsuccessfully terminated.
Judge Joseph F. Flickinger, III who presides over the mental health court describes as an example of the Court’s success a young man originally charged with Assault 2nd and Terroristic Threatening who was being held at the Level V facility at the Delaware Psychiatric Center when he entered the mental health court. During his seven months in the program, he progressed to living in a group home and became a full time college student. He currently has his own apartment and has remained arrest free for more than two years. Judge Flickinger said, “In almost all cases our participants have achieved our goals of avoiding conviction on the original charges, having no further arrests and learning how to deal with their mental illness in order to lead happier and more productive lives.”
|Honorable Joseph F. Flickinger, III of the Court of Common Pleas with Mental Health Court staff Colleen Rapposelli and Stefanie Garbatowski, BSW. Not pictured are Mental Health Court staff members Daina Gunther and Tom Beardsley.|