Mental Health Court
Lancaster County Adult Mental Health Court is a specialty court program for criminal offenders diagnosed with a serious mental illness. Offenders can be referred to the program by police officers, Magisterial District Judges, attorneys, probation officers, case managers, prison staff, judges, family members, and other agencies or individuals who come into contact with an offender who might qualify for the program.
Referral applications are reviewed by the Mental Health Court Coordinator to determine if the offender meets the program’s initial eligibility criteria. If the offender does meet initial eligibility criteria, the application is forwarded to the Lancaster County BHDS office, who will determine if the offender is eligible and appropriate for case management services under their guidelines. Upon approval from BHDS, the application is forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office, who will determine if the offender and the underlying charges are appropriate for the program based on such factors as the offender’s criminal history, the circumstances of the crime involved, and input from the crime victim and prosecuting officer. The Mental Health Court Treatment Team evaluates the suitability of each referral. An offender is either accepted into Mental Health Court, referred to Special Offenders Services, or referred back to the standard criminal justice system.
Participation in Mental Health Court is voluntary. Informed consent will be obtained for evaluation and consideration by the Court Team. The Lancaster County Mental Health Court is a program which has three possible tracks:
- Diversion, or
- Modified, or
For participants whose cases are on the diversionary track, sentencing will be deferred pending completion of the Mental Health Court program. Upon successful completion of the Mental Health Court program, including payments of fines, costs and restitution, the participant’s charges may be reduced, dismissed, or the District Attorney’s Office may agree to expunge the pertinent charges as previously agreed, subject to Court approval.
For participants whose cases are on the modified track, sentencing will be deferred pending completion of the Mental Health Court program. They will plead guilty to a minimum of two specific offenses, one more serious than the other. Upon successful completion of the Mental Health Court program, including payments of fines, costs, and restitution, the more serious charge will be dismissed.
For participants whose cases are on the non-diversionary track, successful completion of Mental Health Court program, including payments of fines, costs, and restitution, may result in the reduction or termination of any remaining supervision; however these records cannot be expunged.
An offender accepted into Mental Health Court is provided with a BHDS case manager through the Lancaster County Office of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services and a specialized mental health probation officer through Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole Services. Working together, this team of individuals assists the offender under Mental Health Court supervision by assessing service needs and availability and monitoring offender compliance with services and participation in treatment / supervision plans.
Mental Health Court participants are expected to honor an approximate 12 to 18 month commitment to the program, which consists of four phases. Phase I is intensive and requires frequent contact with the participant’s probation officer and case manager, as well as weekly court appearances. Offenders who successfully complete the requirements of a given phase (a period of approximately 3 to 6 months) are promoted to the next phase. With each successive phase, and as long as they continue to meet program and treatment requirements, offenders are monitored less frequently and less intensely.
A participant can expect to receive a sanction if they violate the Mental Health Court program rules or fail to achieve certain phase requirements. Typical violations that may be sanctioned include: missed appointments, failed or adulterated drug tests, new arrests / charges, dishonesty, and lack of participation in treatment. Sanctions will be imposed relative to the violation, and will be progressive in nature. Sanctions may include but are not limited to: essays, loss of privileges, phase demotion, community service, additional fines, curfew restrictions, incarceration, and termination from the Mental Health Court program. The Mental Health Court Team reserves the right to impose these and/or other sanctions appropriate to each particular participant and violation.
In turn, if the participant maintains purposeful and positive participation in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Mental Health Court, the participant may receive appropriate incentives and recognition as well. The method of recognition will be determined by the Mental Health Court Team and specific rewards will depend on available resources.