A change in construction plans has delayed plans to open a new forensic mental health treatment facility at Bucks County Correctional Center until late next year.
But a temporary center for people with a mental health crisis that puts them at risk of arrest could open in late summer, county officials said.
The proposed 28-bed diversion, treatment and rehabilitation center is part of a larger partnership between county criminal justice and behavioral health systems to divert offenders to court-supervised programs.
County officials originally expected the center to open this year inside the soon-to-be-closed women’s prison, but consultants determined the building’s age and layout were not conducive to scheduled programming, county spokesman James O’Malley said.
Instead, the county plans to demolish the existing building and build a new one on its footprint, but about 1,400 square feet larger, O’Malley said.
The new construction will increase capacity, allowing for the addition of four additional short-term beds for a total of eight, said Donna Duffy Bell, administrator of the county’s Department of Behavioral and Developmental Programs.
Final cost estimates for the proposed forensic facility have not been completed, and county commissioners have not voted on the proposed plan to replace the existing building with a new one.
But the county is moving forward with its plans for the center. He recently applied for a demolition permit from the Township of Doylestown and plans to consider bids for the project over the summer, with construction beginning later this year, O’Malley said.
Construction of the new building could take at least 12 months depending on the supply chain.
During construction, the county plans to operate a short-term observation unit in a temporary modular structure near the new center, O’Malley said. The temporary unit is expected to open before the end of this year.
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The new center would operate as a rehabilitation resource for those released from jail or mental hospitals, and county mental health court defendants, to provide community services to prevent incarceration.
It would consist of three units:
- The Short-Term Observation Unit is designed to provide a safe, time-limited, and transitional placement opportunity for individuals involved in the criminal justice system who also experience mental health issues or co-occurring mental health disorders and of drug addiction.
- The Competence Restoration Unit would serve up to four people involved in the justice system who have been found unfit to stand trial. Currently, these individuals are being treated at Norristown State Psychiatric Hospital in Montgomery County.
- The adult residential treatment facility will serve as transitional housing for up to 16 Bucks and Montgomery County residents involved in the criminal justice system who also suffer from mental health issues, to help them reintegrate into the community.
The project is funded through reinvestment from Bucks County Behavioral Health and Developmental Programs and American Rescue Act funds, O’Malley said.
Last year, the county approved a $406,000 contract for design work on the center and nearly $4.3 million to Geo Reentry Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., which will operate it.
Geographical reintegrationwho also acts as a project consultant, describes itself as providing programs and services aimed at reducing recidivism by focusing on high-risk offenders, targeting factors that contribute to criminal behavior and using cognitive- behavioral.
Traditional court processes and incarceration have proven ineffective in changing outcomes for offenders with severe, persistent and untreated mental illness, mental health experts say. Incarceration exacerbates symptoms, disrupts treatment regimens and contributes to victimization and suicide, they say.
In recent years, several high-profile local criminal cases have involved offenders with a history of serious mental illness who allegedly committed crimes while actively exhibiting symptoms of mental illness.
Last year alone, an average of 83 inmates a month incarcerated in Bucks County Jail – about 12% of the average prison population – were diagnosed with a disorder considered a serious and persistent mental illness. The number does not reflect inmates who are experiencing mental health crises as a result of their incarceration.
Earlier this year, Bucks County launched its weekly Mental Health Court, a diversion program that keeps people with serious mental illness out of the court system. The county is one of 25 in Pennsylvania to operate a mental health court.
Research suggests that mental health diversion programs benefit the criminal justice system by moving cases through the court system faster. It also provides individuals with a pathway for treatment and recovery and reduces recidivism.
Bucks County Commissioner Chairwoman Diane Ellis-Marseglia predicted the county could see an 85% drop in jail admissions for defendants needing mental health services through the forensic center and courthouse. mental health only.