It took Allegheny County President Judge Joseph James 30 years to prove his hunch was right, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: It is less expensive to treat mentally ill criminals involved in minor crimes than it is to jail them. A study of the Allegheny County Mental Health Court, started in 2001, found that not only does treatment help the participants, it also saves money. The Rand Corporation study showed that the increased cost of treating mentally ill people who were criminally charged was offset by the decrease in jail costs.
The court steers people who are committing crimes mostly because they are mentally ill into treatment instead of jail. Intensive probation is ued to make sure the defendants are sticking to their treatment plans so they can stay out of jail. John Engberg, a Rand economist, said that over a two-year period, just for the 200 people who were in the court, there was a savings of about $3.6 million. “What we have here is proof that it worked,” said Estelle Richmond, secretary of the state Department of Public Welfare. “It does save money and it does help people get better.” Richmond wants to use Allegheny County as a model in counties across the state.