PHMC’s Forensic Services component encompasses a group of programs designed to put substance users into treatment rather than prison. Programs ranging from DUI Treatment Court and Drug Treatment Court to Domestic Violence Court and Juvenile Treatment Court are helping hundreds of Philadelphians escape the prison cycle. DIRECTIONS sat down with vice president of forensic services Deborah Schlater and director of operations Amy Augustine to learn more about the programs.

QHow did
Forensic Services start?

ADeborah Schlater: Forensic Services started as an early parole program for people in the Philadelphia jails. It was created because the county jail was overcrowded and the city was getting fined for overcrowding. Those fines provided the program’s first funding.

QHow do you
reach possible participants?

ADS: We work closely with the district attorney’s office, defenders association, court system and probation department to identify people who are legally eligible for parole. We go behind the wall and do a clinical assessment to determine whether treatment is needed. We send that information back to the public defender for approval.

QWho is an ideal candidate
for the program?

ADS: They are people in the Philadelphia prison system usually for drug crimes. They have to be under a sentence of no more than two years, for nonviolent crimes. Once participants serve half of their minimum sentences without incident, they are legally eligible for early parol

QHow many candidates can be found
in Philadelphia prisons?

ADS: About 75% of the prison population is clinically eligible, that is they suffer from substance abuse.

QAnd of that population,
how many participants are chosen?

ADS: Our Forensic Intensive Recovery [FIR] caseload is currently about 750 people who have either earned early parole or have been diverted from jail; in addition we currently serve 1,300-plus participants in all of the Criminal Justice Treatment Initiatives [CJTI] combined.

QWhat happens once
participants are clean?

ADS: We enlist them in vocational training programs, housing, GED programs, enrolment in community college. There are a lot of options and we support whatever kind of reentry service the case manager recommends.

QWhat kind of results do you see for participants compared to those not taking part in the program?

ADS: Based on an evaluation in the mid-1990s, those people who completed 6 months of substance abuse treatment are 66% less likely to be convicted of a new crime. Newer data suggests that we are seeing similar if not better results today.

Amy Augustine: Another CJTI, the Philadelphia Treatment Court, targets first- time offenders. The program takes anywhere from 12 to 15 months to complete. The goal at successful completion is to withdraw the case and eventually have the client’s record expunged. 90% of the participants graduate and of those about 70% have their records expunged.

QWhat kind of reaction are you seeing from the legal and surrounding communities?

AAA: The criminal justice system values
our programs and over the last 10 years communities have become more receptive to treatment-based alternative programs versus incarceration.

Why the support?

AAA: Participants are getting the treatment they need, an improvement over traditional sentences such as incarceration and probation. There is confidence that clients are getting services they require, in order to lead crime- and drug-free lives. We address the problem-causing behaviors and that is what judges like. Essentially there is a sense that if you treat the root cause of the problem, you will see less recidivism.