Construction is set to begin within weeks on Bucks County’s new Diversion, Assessment, Restoration and Treatment Center that will serve those dealing with mental health challenges while involved in the criminal justice system.
The 23,000-square-foot, one-story new building will have the capacity for 28 patients and is expected to open later next year. Officials said work will take 15 months.
The facility is being constructed on the property of the Bucks County Correctional Facility in Doylestown Township. It will take the place of the now-demolished Women’s Community Corrections Center, which was demolished earlier this year.
Earlier this month, the Bucks County Commissioners – two Democrats and one Republican – voted to hire contractors Guy M. Cooper Inc., Integrity Mechanical, Magnum, The Farfield Company, and Vision Mechanical to build the planned Diversion, Assessment, Restoration and Treatment Center. The contracts were valued at $16 million.
Bucks County will use state and federal grants and funding streams and American Rescue Plan Act money to pay for the new center. Sustaining funding will come from the county and human services block grants.
County officials said the the new center will “serve people in the criminal justice system who are suffering from mental illness.”
Bucks County Behavioral Health/Developmental Programs Administrator Donna Duffy-Bell said at the Wednesday groundbreaking ceremony that the center is much needed.
“We are in dire need of more mental health services across the board, but particularly in the criminal justice system,” said Commissioner Vice Chairperson Diane Ellis-Marseglia. “This center will join our successful co-responder program, our CIT training initiative, and our drug and mental health courts in not only changing lives for the better, but in bringing real value to taxpayers by channeling county resources into real solutions.”
The Diversion, Assessment, Restoration and Treatment Center will have a short-term observation unit, a restoration of competency unit, and a residential treatment facility for men and women. The length of stays at the facility will be from weeks to as long as nine months, Duffy-Bell said.
The center can offer an alternative for judges to send a person for evaluation and resources instead of sending them to the correctional facility. People leaving the jail, in custody, or on probation and parole will also be able to use the facility, according to Duffy-Bell.
“Jail is not a place for mentally ill folks. We’re the last stop and we can’t say no. These are not generally higher-level criminals. They are maybe a nuisance in the community,” Bucks County Department of Corrections Director David Kratz said. “Jail is not designed to deal with mental illness.”
Kratz said sending people who need assistance like what will be provided by the Diversion, Assessment, Restoration and Treatment Center to a purpose-built facility will help those who need it.
Duffy-Bell said the size and capacity of the 24/7 facility was determined after looking at similar programs in the community and county data.
“This is a good estimate in terms of expected volume and what we can reasonably do,” she said.
The county facility, which will be run by GEO Group, will exist alongside private facilities in the community and state-run facilities, which often can’t take people very quickly, leaving them to sit in jail.
Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo said he has a family member who would have benefitted from a center like the Diversion, Assessment, Restoration and Treatment Center.
“She is doing alright now, but this would have helped her,” he said.
Ellis-Marseglia, a social worker by training, commended DiGirolamo for his support of mental health services.
Commissioner Chairperson Bob Harvie commended the officials who brought the plans together.
The county has been planning for the facility since 2016.
Public attention was drawn in 2020 after reporting, including articles published by public media station WITF, on mental health-related cases in the county. The reporting by WITF, LevittownNow.com, and other news organizations led to county officials announcing a center was going to be constructed.