Matthew Schmonsees: “We can have a better solution than locking people up in jail”

Matthew Schmonsees is the coordinator for Philadelphia Treatment Court in the first judicial district of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1997, the Philadelphia Treatment Court was the first treatment court in Pennsylvania. 10 years later, Philadelphia’s DUI treatment court was founded in 2007. Today, there are 106 treatment courts in Pennsylvania.

Schmonsees said about 5,000 people are arrested each year in Philadelphia on drug chargers, but Philadelphia Treatment Court can only afford to take 450 people into the program because it is “resource driven.”

“I would love to see more resources for a program that has shown to work for a city that is in such need,” Schmonsees added.

Most people in Philadelphia Treatment Court are using opiates, and two-thirds of people in Philadelphia Treatment Court are between the ages of 18 and 25. Most of them are male, Schmonsees said. People caught with 1 gram of heroin or less are eligible for Philadelphia Treatment Court, which focuses on enrolling first time offenders into the program. Everyone is evaluated before entering Philadelphia Treatment Court to ensure they have a history of substance use and to ensure they will benefit from the program.

There are ten key components used to form the framework of Philadelphia Treatment Court. This includes integrating drug treatment, using a non-adversarial approach and identifying eligible participants early on and placing them in treatment. The Philadelphia Treatment Court also focuses on using a coordinated strategy to govern the drug court responses to participant compliance, continuing interdisciplinary education to promote effective drug court planning, implementation and operations and forging partnerships between drug courts, public agencies and community based organizations in order to generate local support and enhance drug court effectiveness.

Participants can graduate from Philadelphia Treatment Court in May if they maintain abstinence, make all their court dates and attend treatment regularly for a full year. Currently, the Philadelphia Treatment Court has a graduation rate of 78%. When individuals graduate, the charges they were initially arrested for are expunged from their record as long as they have stayed out of the criminal justice system for a full year. 91 percent of individuals in Philadelphia Treatment Court get their records expunged.

In the behavioral health system, Schmonsees said addiction and mental health are often treated as separate entities, even though the two issues overlap quite a lot. Schmonsees said he would like to see an improvement in dual diagnosis programs for people arrested on drug charges and for people in recovery who have not been arrested. I strongly agree with Schmonsees on this point because from my experience with the behavioral health system, it is clear to me those with a dual diagnosis are not receiving proper care, or they are only treated for one diagnosis and not the other.

About the author

Meghan Costa

Meghan Costa studies journalism and psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She writes for the schools newspaper, The Temple News and works as an editorial intern at the office of the senior vice provost of strategic communications. After graduation, Meghan hopes to stay in Philadelphia and write for a magazine or newspaper. She would like to specialize in mental health reporting, but she is open to any and all opportunities that come her way. Meghan also has a strong passion for creative writing, and is always looking to collaborate with other creatives on projects of any kind. Some of her favorite writers include e.e Cummings, T.S. Elliot, and Kurt Vonnegut. Meghan is originally from West Chester, which is a suburb of the Philadelphia area. Contact Meghan at tuf87094@temple.edu.

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