Bryan Porter, Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Alexandria, announced that the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney is implementing a new initiative designed to address certain cases in which a person with severe mental illness is accused of a criminal offense.

Porter announced that he is assigning a senior, supervisory prosecutor to oversee the new Mental Health Initiative, Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Molly Sullivan. Sullivan will be responsible for screening cases for possible participation in the MHI. She will then monitor the cases selected for the MHI, working with community partners to ensure compliance with the conditions of the program.

The goal of the MHI is to address the underlying, root cause of crimes committed by people with severe mental illness. The initiative is designed, where possible, to decrease the length of any incarceration and to avoid it entirely in those cases where the safety of the community can be served by pre-trial services, mental health treatment, and/or probation. The MHI is designed to compassionately provide appropriate treatment and services, thereby decreasing the chances of recidivism.

The MHI requires the OCA to work closely with other City agencies to include the Department of Community and Human Services, the Sheriff’s Pre-Trial Services/Local Probation program, and Adult Probation and Parole.

Eligibility for the MHI

Any adult who is charged in General District Court or Circuit Court may be considered for participation in the MHI if they: 1) suffer from severe mental illness and 2) that mental illness substantially contributed to the charged crime(s). Factors that will be considered in deciding whether the person may participate in the MHI include, but are not limited to:

- Whether the accused is charged with a violent crime, and, if so, the facts surrounding the crime;

- Whether a civilian was victimized by the charged crime, and, if so, what the civilian victim thinks about the accused’s participation in the MHI;

- The accused’s mental health diagnosis;

- Whether the accused is willing to participate in the program;

- Whether the accused has previously been provided significant mental health services through the criminal justice system; and

- Whether the accused has a substantial record of criminal convictions.

Veterans of the Armed Forces who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury are eligible for participation in the MHI.

Porter noted that his office is not receiving any additional funding or personnel for the MHI; therefore, unless additional funding is secured, the number of persons who may participate in the MHI is necessarily limited.

Alternative Dispositions

Participants in the MHI are eligible for a host of dispositions with regards to their criminal charges. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the case, these dispositions may include, but are not limited to:

- diversion of the charge from the criminal justice system at the point where a warrant would otherwise be sought, especially in the case of minor, non-violent offenses where the defendant is immediately hospitalized for treatment;

- suspended imposition of sentence, with an ultimate dismissal of the charge upon full compliance with terms of probation, including mental health treatment and medication compliance;

- a suspended sentence with probation, to include compliance with mental health treatment and medication compliance, in lieu of service of a jail sentence;

- amendment of the charge to a lesser offense, thus reducing the severity of the potential sentence; and

- agreed “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity” dispositions where appropriate, accomplished in an expedited manner to reduce the time in custody prior to hospitalization for evaluation and treatment.

With regards to this new initiative, Porter said: “As a society, we simply must do a better job in addressing mental illness. Far too often, police, the sheriff, and prosecutors are asked to be the primary treatment providers for the mentally ill, and it should be obvious that we have neither the expertise nor the resources to adequately address the myriad of issues raised by mentally ill citizens.

“Therefore, I specifically thank the agencies that have partnered with my office in creating this new initiative, to include: the Department of Community and Human Services, the Sheriff’s Local Probation/Pre-Trial Services Office, the Adult Probation and Parole Office, and members of the Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team.

“It is important for citizens to remember that mental illness is a disease, not a defect in the character of those afflicted. If we lessen the stigma attached to those suffering from mental illness, we significantly increase the potential for successful intervention and treatment.

“People who suffer from mental illness may commit a criminal offense without a true understanding of the nature and consequences of their actions. In these cases, the best use of my office’s limited resources is to attempt to address the underlying reasons for the criminal conduct at issue. The Mental Health Initiative does just that: marshalling extant resources to provide the treatment, therapy, medication, and accountability necessary for people to address their mental illness. If the Mental Health Initiative is effective, everyone wins: the accused, who will not re-offend, society, which will not suffer a future offense, and my office, which can focus on volitional criminality,” said Porter.

Porter hopes to have several people enrolled in the Mental Health Initiative by February 2018.