Robert McWhite, 37, has spent the better part of the past 18 years locked up by either the justice system, drug addiction, life on the streets, or mental illness in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Allegheny County’s mental health court has gotten him cleaned up and on a better path, he said. In the court, defendants are assigned a support specialist for the first 60 to 90 days of their probation. The specialists help clients find housing and show them where they need to report for medical treatment, therapies, and to check in with their probation officer, often providing transportation. They also help line up appropriate government benefits.
The county’s mental health court was one of a select few in the U.S. when its first gavel struck in 2001. All defendants who volunteer to have their cases moved to the court have a diagnosed mental disorder, most often bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Those charged with more severe violent crime, DUIs, and drug-dealing are not eligible. Defendants are hardly coddled. They can be ordered to attend inpatient drug rehab, be committed to a mental health facility or serve a jail sentence. Most often, they are released on probation, but if they don’t follow the service plan, they go to jail.