Pa. Launches Center to Help Counties Reduce Prison Population with Mental Illness


By Lindsay Lazarski

Pennsylvania leaders are teaming up in an effort to reduce the number of people with mental illness in county jails across the commonwealth.

The Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Council of State Governments Justice Center are launching a statewide center — the Stepping Up Technical Assistance Center — to provide counties with support and resources to help collect data and track how well people with mental illnesses are receiving the treatment they need.

The center is a step toward solving a problem that has long plagued the criminal justice system, said John Wetzel, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections.

“The notion that we’re delivering behavioral health services and mental health services in the criminal justice system more than any other system is a national embarrassment,” Wetzel said. “We have to have the courage to start by saying that we’re doing a terrible job.”

Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of the Department of Health, said the state needs to adopt a public health approach when it comes to tackling the problem of prisoners with mental illness.

Mental health conditions — such as mood disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and addiction — are medical conditions that must be treated with the appropriate model, she said.

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