The Department of Human Services (DHS) today announced that it has entered into a settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding individuals served through Pennsylvania’s forensic mental health system.
“This agreement puts the focus exactly where it needs to be, on providing the highest level of services we can for those served by the forensic system,” said DHS Secretary Ted Dallas. “I would like to thank the ACLU for their professionalism and willingness to compromise. By working together, we have taken a good first step towards addressing a long-standing issue that both sides agree has affected Pennsylvanians for too many years.”
The forensic mental health system serves individuals who have been declared incompetent by the courts to stand trial on criminal charges and who have been ordered to be committed to Norristown State Hospital (“Norristown”) or Torrance State Hospital (“Torrance”) for treatment to help them attain competence. On October 22, 2015, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the amount of time individuals served by the forensic system stay in jail before being transferred to Norristown or Torrance.
The agreement focuses on increasing placement options for those who have been committed by the courts to ensure that they can get the mental health services they need more quickly and to reduce the negative impact that prolonged stays in jail have on their mental health and competency for trial. Highlights of the agreement include:
- Creating 120 new placement options within the commonwealth, with the first 60 to be created within the first 120 days of the agreement and the final 60 to be created within 180 days of the agreement;
- Making at least $1 million available within the first 90 days of the agreement to create supportive housing opportunities in the City of Philadelphia; and
- Assessing every person currently on a waiting list or being served at Norristown and Torrance’s forensic units within 60 days of the agreement to determine if they are receiving the appropriate level of service.
“A well-functioning forensic mental health system is not only a critical part of a well-functioning human services system, but also of a well-functioning criminal justice system,” said Secretary Dallas. “Today’s agreement will help improve both systems and make it easier for all of those involved to achieve the best possible result for the individuals they serve.”