Report outlines critical analysis and recommendations for opening Bucks County mental health court

As Bucks County moves toward the development of a mental health court, a recently completed report is providing important background and recommendations that would improve both the criminal justice and clinical outcomes for people living with mental illness.

The report “Improving Criminal Justice Outcomes through Mental Health Court Development” was developed and prepared by researchers with the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law.

Quattrone researchers concluded that a mental health court would help reduce the time offenders with mental illness spend in jail, improve public safety by reducing recidivism and lead to quality of life improvements.

“We’ve too often seen people with mental health issues become hopelessly enmeshed in the ‘spin cycle’ of the criminal justice system due to its inability to address these defendants’ specific issues,” District Attorney Matt Weintraub said. “I enlisted the Quattrone Center at Penn Law School to give us a critical analysis on starting a mental health court here in Bucks County. They graciously agreed and produced this report for us, and at no cost to the taxpayers.” 

John F. Hollway executive director of the Quattrone Center and Associate Dean at Penn Law School said the Quattrone Center works with criminal justice professionals around the country who are interested in making sure that the criminal justice system is designed in ways that help to prevent and reduce crime over time.

“We appreciate the forward-looking focus of the Bucks County DA’s Office and others in Bucks County as they work to better address this historically underserved population,” he said.

Dominic A. Sisti, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at Penn Medicine, supervised the report. 

“Providing seriously mentally ill individuals with appropriate medical treatment and support--instead of punishment and incarceration – is the right thing to do," he said. "A new mental health court will provide a pathway for treatment and recovery, and will aim to break the cycle of recidivism experienced by many mentally ill people in the system.  Mental health diversion programs prioritize rehabilitation over retribution, and this shift will benefit the entire community.”

The report found the mental health court in Bucks County would be able to draw on existing resources already in place in the county, such as the Drug Court, the Veterans Treatment Program and the District Court Diversion Program.

The court would “operate as a form of judicially supervised probation, diverting defendants from incarceration to the community in ways that increase the likelihood that they can gain the support they need,” the report found.

The report also provided a set of recommendations to successfully implement the mental health court, which include assisting offenders with serious psychiatric disorders, such as major depression disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as people with dual mental health and substance abuse disorders.

The mental health court should also consider assisting both misdemeanor and felony offenders, the report recommends.

In addition, the report made recommendations on how the admissions process would work, how the court should be staffed, the types of treatment services, counseling and community support for those in the program, as well as conditions of their supervision and how they would successfully complete the program.

“By establishing a mental health court, Bucks County is tackling an urgent problem: the over-incarceration and over-punishment of people with mental illness,” said Benjamin Barsky, a research associate and current Ph.D. student who contributed to the report. “This project constitutes an important step toward the implementation of evidence-based interventions aimed at rehabilitation, integration, and community support for this vulnerable population.”

Weintraub said the report provided great analysis and suggestions.

“I welcome anyone to use this report to further our progress towards establishing a Bucks County Mental Health Court,” he said.

A copy of the Quattrone Center report is attached. 

Contact: Manuel Gamiz Jr., 215.348.6298, mgamiz@buckscounty.org