Justice Matters with Bryan Porter: Mental health initiative helps all stakeholders

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In January 2018, my office implemented our new Mental Health Initiative, a collaboration with a number of city agencies that aims to provide treatment and services to defendants suffering from a mental crisis. Specifically, the MHI seeks to avoid incarceration and, where possible, convictions in those cases where the interest in community safety can be served by pretrial services, mental health treatment and probation monitoring.

Any adult defendant who has a serious mental illness that contributed to a criminal act is eligible for consideration to join the MHI. Additionally, defendants who served in the armed services and suffer from PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury are eligible. If the crime involved a victim, the victim’s input is solicited. In order to be accepted into the program, the defendant and his or her attorney must agree to participate. Priority is given to non-violent offenders and no one who injured another person is eligible.

Data is in on the MHI’s first year. Due to privacy concerns and the well-being of those involved in the program, specific cases or names can’t be disclosed. The program has been administered by my Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney, Molly Sullivan, who compiled the first-year statistical analysis below.

During 2018, 47 defendants were adopted into the MHI. The Commonwealth Attorney’s office worked closely with allied professionals, including members of the city’s Community Services Board, the Magistrate’s Office, Local Probation and Adult Probation and Parole, to effectively serve these program participants. To date, 13 participants have successfully completed the program, meaning that they have complied with all conditions of treatment and have not committed any new offenses during their supervision.

Nine additional participants have compliance review dates in the near future and we anticipate all will successfully complete the program within 90 days. Fifteen more participants are currently in active treatment with target completion dates farther out, but these participants are doing well in the program and will likely complete it successfully. If so, as many as 37 of the first 47 participants may successfully complete the MHI within the first two years of its existence.

Only five cases at this point can be classified as unsuccessful, in that the participant did not complete the program. The final five cases are in wait-and-see mode – these participants have experienced some setbacks in their treatment but continue to address their mental health diagnoses and may soon be able to successfully complete the program. Just about half of the program participants have received services through the Alexandria Community Services Board while others are undergoing treatment in adjacent jurisdictions.

I also note that other localities are interested in the MHI, which was recently the subject of a presentation at a state-wide conference in Blacksburg, Virginia. Representatives from my office, the Magistrate’s Office and the Community Services Board described our program and detailed several anonymized case studies in an effort to explain our paradigm. As our program establishes its efficacy through statistics, it will hopefully expand to other jurisdictions interested in addressing the intersection of mental health and criminal justice.

As I have previously noted, when a citizen successfully completes the MHI, all interested stakeholders can be considered winners. The citizen wins because he or she has finally obtained treatment to address a mental health diagnosis, society wins because the citizen will likely not recidivate and law enforcement wins because it can focus its resources on violent criminals.

-The writer is Commonwealth’s Attorney for Alexandria.

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