Senate Adopts Legislation on 'Problem Solving' Courts

The Senate today unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senator Jane C. Orie, Majority Whip (R-Allegheny) which seeks to improve public safety while at the same time providing more extensive supervision of non-violent offenders.

Problem solving courts, which include mental health courts and drug courts, divert non-violent offenders from more costly jail cells and encourage rehabilitation through extensive supervision.

"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," Orie said. "These courts will reduce prison overcrowding and improve cooperation between our criminal justice system and drug and alcohol and mental health systems."

Orie said that specialized problem solving courts are being used across the nation to save money and help offenders who have particular issues including drug addiction and mental health issues. Allegheny County has been recognized for the problem solving courts they have established, including the recent creation of a veterans' court.

Previously this year Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Senate Bill 383 and is a strong supporter of problem-solving courts.

Senate Bill 383 will statutorily authorize the implementation of problem solving courts in the Commonwealth," Orie said. "This is not mandatory, but rather necessary to ensure that our state obtains financial assistance in creating these courts."

"This concept is a win-win proposition for our criminal justice system and for those individuals who need assistance," Orie said. "They will make our communities safer, and they will save tax dollars."

Orie said 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. According to the Department of Justice -- approximately 20 percent of the Pennsylvania prison population suffers from mental illness.

"So 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," Orie said. "That's why this legislation is so critical. As research has shown, problem solving courts that can specialize in these areas can ensure that offenders receive the most appropriate sentencing, supervision, rehabilitation and treatment."


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