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Mental Health Court


Mental Health Court (MHC), established in 2001, is a collaboration between the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health and the Offices of the Court of Common Pleas, District Attorney, Public Defender, and Adult Probation.

Mental Health Court is designed to:

  • divert individuals with non-violent criminal charges who have a documented diagnosis of a mental illness to community based services.
  • maintain treatment, housing, benefits, supervision and community support services for the individual.
  • maintain effective communication between the criminal justice system and mental health system.
  • support public safety.

Benefits of Mental Health Court:

  • A person may be released from jail and placed in mental health services/treatment in lieu of incarceration.
  • A person placed on probation from MHC will be supervised by a Special Services Probation Officer and receive support from an OBH MHC Probation Liaison.

Eligible individuals:

An adult defendant who:

  • resides in Allegheny County
  • has a documented diagnosis of a mental disorder, mental disability or is dually-diagnosed with a mental disorder and substance abuse
  • is charged with committing a misdemeanor and/or non-violent felony in Allegheny County and is awaiting trial and/or sentencing
  • voluntarily expresses an interest in MHC

Ineligible individuals:

Persons who have an out-of-county-or-state detainer or who have committed the following crimes:

  • Assault while a prisoner
  • Drug trafficking
  • DUI 
  • Homicide offenses
  • Probation violation
  • Sexual offenses
  • Theft by extortion with threats of violence

Aggravated assault, arson, burglary, robbery and Violation of the Uniform Firearms Act (VUFA) offenses may be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

After referral

The individual is assessed by the MHC Monitor.

  • The MHC Public Defender (PD), MHC Assistant District Attorney (ADA), and MHC Monitor review the referral information, including pending charges, to determine eligibility and to grant or deny acceptance to MHC;
  • The individual and/or defense counsel are informed of the acceptance or denial decision.

After accepted

  • The MHC PD will provide a list of accepted cases to the clerk assigned to the MHC judge.
  • The individual is assigned a Justice Related Support Specialist from the Office of Behavioral Health.
  • The MHC Justice Related Support Specialist works with the individual to develop a service (treatment) plan which will be presented to the court.
  • At completion of the service plan and, if necessary, a bond modification hearing is held.
  • Upon acceptance by the judge, the service plan will become a condition of the new bond and the individual will be released from the Allegheny County Jail, contingent upon compliance with the service plan.
  • Mental Health Court personnel meet every Tuesday with accepted defendants to select trial dates and address subpoenas. 
  • If the individual desires a trial, cases must be scheduled far enough in advance so that the Commonwealth can subpoena witnesses.
  • If a plea bargain has not been previously arranged, the trial is conducted.
  • Unless a case is dismissed at trial, the plea bargained and post-conviction sentences will include probation with a condition for continued compliance with the service plan.
  • Individuals are assigned a Special Services Adult Probation Officer from the Court and a Mental Health Court Probation Liaison from the Office of Behavioral Health. A subpoena for the first follow-up Reinforcement Hearing is issued during the sentencing.
  • MHC Reinforcement Hearings are conducted at intervals of thirty (30), sixty (60) , or ninety (90) days, depending upon the individual's progress.
  • Negative Reinforcement Hearings are scheduled if the individual violates probation or fails to follow his or her service plan.
  • Individuals will be monitored closely by the Special Services Probation Officer and the MHC Probation Liaison, who will also provide on-going support for compliance with the service plan, until the probation expires.
Referral Information  

An individual may be referred by anyone within or outside of the court system with sufficient cause to make the referral.


pdf.gif Human Services Integration Fund and Other Foundation-Funded Projects 

Related Resources

pdf.gif Effect of Mental Health Court on Arrests and Jail Days - A multi-site study
American Medical Association, February 2011

PBS FRONTLINE: The Released 
April 28, 2009 at 9:00 p.m. - watch on TV and online
The Allegheny County Mental Health Court has been improving lives since 2001. PBS FRONTLINE will examine the lives of former prisoners with serious mental illness in Ohio who were released into their communities with minimal prescribed supports. Our Mental Health Court, with its formal process of supporting former inmates throughout their reintegration, will be presented as a life-changing alternative for one of those individuals who made his way to Allegheny County.

pdf.gif Mental Health Court Report 2009
An overview of MHC in Allegheny County, including statistics on demographics and recidivism rates of MHC graduates. 

pdf.gif Testimonial of a participant in Mental Health Court
 Many participants in the Mental Health Court have made positive changes in their lives. November 2008 

The Politics of Mental Illness - A Worthy Diversion 
The American Prospect, July/August 2008
Allegheny County Mental Health Court featured for its ability to keep offenders with mental illness out of the criminal-justice system.

Mental Health Courts - How special courts can serve justice and help mentally ill offenders 
US News and World Report, February 2, 2008

pdf.gif DHS: Making an Impact – Mental Health Court
DHS: Making an Impact is a series of DHS publications that focuses not on budget figures or service data but on the impact our services are having on real people.

pdf.gif Mental Health Court Provides Offenders an Alternative to Traditional Incarceration
Journal of The Allegheny County Bar Association, September 14, 2007, pp 4 and 10.

Justice, Treatment, and Cost: An Evaluation of the Fiscal Impact of Allegheny County Mental Health Court
RAND Corporation Study, March 1, 2007
This report presents findings from a fiscal impact study of the Allegheny County Mental Health Court (MHC) Program.

pdf.gif Allegheny County Mental Health Court Report, September 2004   

pdf.gif Allegheny County Mental Health Court Report, September 2004, Executive Summary