Editorial: Jailed Mentally Ill Need Proper Approach to Break Their Cycle


By the Sun-Gazette Editorial Board

Lycoming County will participate in the national initiative Stepping Up, which helps provide counties with tools to lessen how many mentally ill people are sentenced to prison.

The decision made by the commissioners recently is a good one for emotional, compassionate and practical reasons.

There are an estimated 2 million people with mental illnesses jailed nationwide annually under the care of counties. They are getting prison incarceration instead of proper treatment for their particular mental malady.

So the results are predictable. Adults with mental health illnesses stay longer in jails and are at a higher risk of recidivism – committing another crime and returning to jail. That’s hardly surprising, because the mental health problems that probably led to their criminal activity are likely not being treated.

And the results are costly.

Commissioner Rick Mirabito said county jails spend two to three times more on adults with mental illness. Without proper treatment, adults with mental health illness tend to keep recycling through the penal system.

The county’s criminal justice system includes a network of programs specifically geared to helping those with mental illnesses. Additionally, a Crisis Intervention Team coordinator was hired last year with grant funds to provide training to local law enforcement and emergency responders to help them de-escalate scenarios involving people with mental illnesses.

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