A Worthy Diversion: Pennsylvania Has Developed a Model Program to Keep Offenders with Mental Illness out of the Criminal-Justice System

By Abramsky, Sasha | The American Prospect, July-August 2008 | Go to article overview

A Worthy Diversion: Pennsylvania Has Developed a Model Program to Keep Offenders with Mental Illness out of the Criminal-Justice System


Abramsky, Sasha, The American Prospect


One night last winter, Sally Judson was arrested for prostitution and disorderly conduct. She was also charged with resisting arrest and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Judson, who has schizophrenia as well as a heroin addiction, is one of hundreds of thousands of Americans clogging the criminal-justice system for drug offenses. Many, like Judson, are also mentally ill, and the system often fails to treat the mental illness and instead ends up just submerging it in the criminal behavior.

But Judson (not her real name) was fortunate to be arrested in Pittsburgh, one of several U.S. cities pioneering a new and promising approach to treating mentally ill offenders that uses a diversion strategy supervised by newly created mental-health courts. After being arrested and placed in the intake area of the jail, Judson was identified as mentally ill by staff of the Allegheny County Office of Behavioral Health, according to the office's Amy Kroll. Two hours later, Judson went for her initial arraignment. "We drew up a service plan, and she was willing to work with us," Kroll says.

Instead of sending her to jail, the judge remanded Judson to a local crisis center followed by 28 days of drug rehab. She responded well to the treatment and afterward was placed in a halfway house. Her ease was removed into a mental-health court, and in lieu of being incarcerated she was put on a structured, three-year probation. The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation helped find her a waitressing job at a local Bob Evans restaurant. On the one occasion Judson relapsed, she was speedily hospitalized.

Once a week, Judson attends a therapy group in which she and other low-level offenders learn techniques to help them avoid patterns of criminal behavior. Her urine is regularly tested for drugs. She sees a therapist who specializes in "co-occurring" disorders such as drug addiction and mental illness. If she abides by the rules, Judson will graduate from mental-health court in the fall of 2009.

"It's very intense supervision," Kroll explains. "Intense treatment. They come back for progress reports. The judge knows everything about them." Absent the interventions, Kroll believes, Judson "would have continued to prostitute. Maybe she'd have ended up dead."

PENNSYLVANIA HAS one of America's largest and fastest-growing prison populations. More than 47,000 people are in the state's prisons, up from about 8,500 in 1980. In the past, the state has failed to develop effective sanctions to channel nonviolent offenders away from prison, and about 20 percent of Pennsylvania's inmates are serving time for drug crimes.

But since April 2007, a Criminal Justice Mental Health Task Force has been pursuing statewide reform recommendations. Five Pennsylvania counties now have mental-health courts, with Pittsburgh's Allegheny County in the lead. These courts supervise mentally ill offenders deemed harmless to the community. In exchange for agreeing to go into treatment, the individual avoids prison as long as he or she sticks to the program. A similar philosophy was pioneered by drug courts in New York, California, and Massachusetts, among other places, which have channeled tens of thousands of people into treatment programs over the past decade, helping them avoid prison.

In Pennsylvania, as in other states that have invested in better ways of interacting with the mentally ill, diversion of mentally ill offenders begins with local law enforcement. Police are specially trained in crisis-intervention methods. Lt. Francis Healy, special adviser to the Philadelphia police commissioner, describes it as "a lot of commonsense talking to people, getting police officers to know what mental illness is--teaching them how important it is to de-escalate." Dispatchers are taught that how they describe a scene determines whether police show up thinking they are going to have to tackle a dangerous felon or instead talk down a disturbed, perhaps psychotic person. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Worthy Diversion: Pennsylvania Has Developed a Model Program to Keep Offenders with Mental Illness out of the Criminal-Justice System
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.