I read an article today about Pennsylvania’s prison system and its ability to take care of inmates who have mental health issues. The article states that the non-profit Treatment Advocacy Center, based in Washington, D.C., gave the Commonwealth a “D” grade.
The reason for the low score is largely due to the persistent lack of beds in Pennsylvania’s mental hospitals. However, the grade indicates that our state has not adhered very closely to certain policies that reduce recidivism and other negative outcomes.
States were graded on several things: their data collection and analysis; existence and implementation of programs called “conditional release programs,” which allow patients to be discharged from state mental hospitals provided they follow a treatment program mandated by the court; how well the criminal justice system in the state cooperated with its mental health system; the state’s use of on-call teams of professionals that assist patients in reintegration into the community after discharge, and making sure they follow their treatment plans; as well as the aforementioned availability of beds for mental health patients who have committed crimes.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services takes issue with the report; they feel it doesn’t accurately describe their system. However, the chairman of psychiatry for the Allegheny Health Network has stated that he wished the Commonwealth took better care of the mentally ill.
Pennsylvania has just 1,000 beds in psychiatric facilities, and only a few hundred set aside for criminal patients, at two state hospitals in the Philadelphia area. The system has been decentralized, and services are overseen at the county level. This lack of beds, along with a lack of services, has led to many people who have mental illness languishing in jail after being charged with crimes, rather than receiving treatment in a timely manner.
The population of mentally ill inmates has risen steadily since the closing of mental hospitals in the ’80s and ’90s. A study by PennLive indicates that, in 1999, 14% of inmates in Pennsylvania’s state prisons were mentally ill. That rate in 2014 had risen to 25%. That figure was even higher in county prisons: 31.7% in 2014.
The Treat or Repeat Report gives a list of recommendations for states like ours, as well as federal and local governments. At the top of the list was creating policies that stop the criminalization of people who have serious mental illnesses. Other suggestions include prioritizing the care of individuals with severe mental illness in the prison system, implementing evidence-based treatments for those who have serious mental illness and have committed crimes, and individualized and outcome-based data collection, treatment, and supervision of those who have serious mental illnesses in the criminal justice system.
In April of this year, Pennsylvania state officials announced they would be joining a program called the Stepping Up Initiative. Organized by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the program’s focus is gathering data about the interactions between the justice system and people with mental health issues, and then using that data to create an evidence-based plan to address what’s landed them there.
Why does this catch my attention so thoroughly? Because, as a Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Attorney, I see exactly what the Treatment Advocacy Center sees. I defend a client with mental health issues, he or she goes through the criminal justice system and gets released, and soon they are calling me back, needing my help once again. The system as it stands now is broken.
There are, of course, programs available to help mentally ill defendants, but many don’t qualify. It’s a vicious cycle.
If you or a loved one find yourself in a situation like this, don’t hesitate to call my office. My associates and I at Logue Law Group stand at the ready to provide you a defense that will get you the treatment you need. Call us today at (412) 612-2210 or (412) 612-2210. Or, you can contact us online.