By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania’s first “mental health court” today celebrated its fifth anniversary of helping nonviolent offenders with mental illnesses re-enter society safely.READ MORE: 'End Of Watch Ride To Remember': Motorcycle Ride Honoring Fallen Officers Makes Stop In Philadelphia
Today, at the Stout Center for Criminal Justice, in center city, twenty-five former offenders stood proud during the court’s annual graduation festivities.
They’d each spent time behind bars, and were at high risk to commit further crimes because of their mental illness.
“Smoking marijuana led to snorting cocaine and eventually to smoking crack cocaine,” recalled Jonathon Mitchell. His drug addiction led to a career in crime and time behind bars.
But now, thanks to prosecutors, social workers, and Philadelphia’s mental health court, he is a productive citizen.READ MORE: Fourth Stimulus Check: Is Another Relief Payment Coming?
“Because of mental health court, I have been told of my mental health diagnosis, I am medication compliant, and I am now taking college preparatory classes,” he said proudly.
President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper runs the mental health court.
“Most of these individuals are committing nonviolent crimes, but crimes that are usually the result of their mental health issues,” she explains. The mental health court works with social workers and prosecutors to get defendants the help they need.
“If we don’t give them the tools that they need to deal with their mental health issues, then they’ll have this revolving door in and out of prison,” Judge Woods-Skipper said, “which is what we don’t want.”
She says the court has processed more than 3,000 cases in five years.MORE NEWS: 4 Dead, 2 Injured Including 12-Year-Old Girl After Shootings At 2 Different Locations In Wilmington, Delaware
Roughly one in five prisoners in Pennsylvania is said to be diagnosed with some form of mental illness.