Smart Talk: Alternatives to Prison for People with Mental Illness
By Rich Copeland
Nearly two million people with serious mental illnesses are incarcerated in America every year. About a quarter of Pennsylvania’s prisoners suffer from mental illness. The chief of medical operations for the Philadelphia Department of Prisons describes the state’s county jail system as “the largest psychiatric hospital in the state of Pennsylvania.”
In response, state and county officials are rolling out a multiyear initiative with the goal of reducing the population of inmates with mental illness and directing them towards treatment rather than incarceration, as well as training first responders how to handle situations involving mentally ill citizens. The ‘Stepping Up’ program is already in use in Ohio and California.
Smart Talk will discuss the initiative with Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, Richard Cho, Director of Behavioral Health at the Council of State Governments Justice Center and Brinda Carroll Penyak, Deputy Director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.