Mentally Ill Spend More Time in Prison; Pennsylvania County Wants to Find out Who They Are

December 15, 2016

PennLive

By Eric Veronikis

Dauphin County officials launched an initiative Thursday aimed at reducing the number of inmates with mental illnesses and drug addictions in the county prison.

With help from the nonprofit Council of State Governments Justice Center, Dauphin County will participate in Stepping Up, a national initiative aimed at lowering the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.

The county will receive intensive technical assistance that will help officials answer the following four key initiative questions:

  • How many individuals with mental illnesses are in the county prison?
  • What is their average length of stay?
  • Are they being connected with behavioral care upon release?
  • What is their recidivism rate?

The county commissioners and the CSG Justice Center will use the findings to develop a plan to confront the issue through policy and programming recommendations in 2017, the Dauphin County District Attorney’s office said.

The county’s cost to participate in Stepping Up was not immediately clear. Officials said funding support will come from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Dauphin County is one of more than 300 counties, including 11 in Pennsylvania, to join the Stepping Up initiative since it was established in May 2015.

About 2 million people with serious mental illnesses are imprisoned across the U.S. annually, a rate that is three-to-six times higher than that of the general public, according to the DA’s office.

Nearly three-quarters of these prisoners also have drug and alcohol problems, the DA’s office said. Prisoners with mental illnesses tend to stay in jail longer and have a higher recidivism rate, according to the DA’s office.

Help Us Reduce the Number of
People with Mental Illnesses in Jails