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DELAWARE SUPREME COURT'S CRIMINAL JUSTICE/MENTAL HEALTH TASK FORCE

According to Justice Ridgely:

"The frequency with which people with mental illnesses enter our courts, jails and prisons remains a critical problem.  This task force will greatly enhance our understanding of the problems that individuals with mental illnesses face, enable us to identify specific gaps in resources, including improvements to treatment options, as well as steps to take, when appropriate, to help individuals with mental illnesses avoid contact with the criminal justice system. . . . Delaware has already initiated substantial efforts to divert those with mental illnesses from the criminal justice system, including the establishment of pilot mental health courts in the Superior Court, Family Court and Court of Common Pleas.  Through the Initiative, we look forward to the opportunity to support and expand these initiatives, and to explore new ways to improve the treatment of the mentally ill within Delaware’s criminal justice system.  The task force has the goals of improving the quality of life for those with mental illnesses in Delaware, increasing public safety, and ensuring that state funds directed toward mental health issues are being used most cost-effectively.” 

Delaware has been selected through a competitive process to be one of four states to participate in a Criminal Justice/Mental Health Initiative.  The Initiative is a national project designed to assist state Supreme Court Chief Justices to spearhead task forces of state leaders in the mental health and the criminal justice fields and to develop strategic plans to improve responses to people with mental illnesses involved in the criminal justice system.  Chief Justice Myron T. Steele designated Justice Henry duPont Ridgely as the chair of this project due to his extensive experience with criminal justice and mental health issues.  The Delaware task force includes representatives from all branches of government, as well as outside experts in the mental health field, and receives funding and technical assistance from the Council for State Governments Justice Center and the National GAINS Center, two nonprofit organizations coordinating the initiative. 

Under Justice Ridgely’s leadership, the task force is forging ahead.  A committee of the task force, including the chairs of each of the task force’s subcommittees (communication, collaboration, and resource allocation; identification, assessment and treatment; mental health courts; and education, prevention and victims’ rights) participated in a Council of State Governments Justice Center-convened policy forum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in January 2009, along with their counterparts from the other three states.

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