In 2012, the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia (PSA) collaborated with D.C. Superior Court and U.S. Attorney’s Office to expand the new “Community Court” model, in which low risk defendants are eligible for diversion after completing court-ordered community service. PSA provides enhanced courtroom coverage to ensure the success of this critical initiative. The new Community Court evolved from the East of the River Community Court (ERCC), which was established in 2002 as one of a few specialty courts established by the D.C. Superior Court that require specialized caseload assignment; and had jurisdiction over U.S. misdemeanor cases other than domestic violence arising from arrests in the 6th and 7th police districts. The Community Court’s fundamental aim is to provide diversion opportunities, when appropriate, to defendants possessing the eligibility criteria for a specified deferred prosecution or deferred sentencing option. Diversion can include, but is not limited to, PSA’s Drug Court, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s First Time Offender Program or mediation. When defendants complete the program successfully, their criminal charges are dismissed. D.C. is the only jurisdiction in the country which has expanded its Community Court throughout its entire geographic area.
Mental Health Community Court
In the Fall of 2007, the PSA partnered with the D.C. Superior Court, United States Attorney’s Office (USAO), D.C. Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) (then the Department of Mental Health), and the District’s defense bar to establish the Mental Health Diversion Court (MHDC) as an alternative court calendar for diverting mentally ill defendants charged with low-level crimes away from jail, and connecting these individuals with the necessary services to improve their quality of life. The MHDC operated successfully as a pilot program and eventually was renamed the Mental Health Community Court (MHCC). In 2011, PSA worked collaboratively with these same partners to expand the mental health services and diversion opportunities provided in the MHCC to defendants who have been charged with certain non-violent felony offenses. Previously, such diversion options were only available to defendants with misdemeanor charges.
PSA assesses and makes recommendations for placement, provides close supervision, and connects participants to services through DBH. The vast majority of defendants certified to the MHCC are dual-diagnosed, requiring both mental health and substance use disorder treatment. The USAO offers the MHCC as an option if the defendant is engaged in appropriate treatment services. When defendants complete the program successfully, their criminal charges are dismissed.