Thursday, June 4, 2009

Problem Solving Courts Approved by PA Senate

With a unanimous vote the PA Senate approved legislation that would statutorily authorize the implementation of problem solving courts in the Commonwealth. Problem solving courts include, among other options, mental health courts and drug courts. The goal is to divert non-violent offenders from jail cells and into supervision programs. The courts are intended to encourage rehabilitation and lower corrections costs. State Senator Jane Orie of McCandless says, "As a former prosecutor and a strong advocate for improving our drug rehabilitation and mental health systems, I believe this legislation is crucial to helping those in need and to improving public safety." "These courts will reduce prison overcrowding and improve cooperation between our criminal justice system and drug and alcohol and mental health systems," says Orie. Allegheny County recently established a veterans' court and has been praised for its success. The law would not force counties to create the special courts but the measure makes it easier to get funding if a county should be interested. According to Sen. Orie, the average cost of building a new prison in Pennsylvania is $200 million and the cost of housing a prisoner can run as much as $30,000 a year. She says approximately 20% of Pennsylvania’s prison population suffers from mental illness. Orie says, “In many cases, we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to incarcerate mentally ill patients or those with addictions who would benefit far more from treatment, medication and counseling.”

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