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“Pennsylvania Overhauls Health Care For Mentally Ill Inmates”

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This January 7, 2015 Think Progress article talks about changes being made to the treatment of inmates with mental health issues that are happening because of a settlment in a federal lawsuit brought by the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania (DRNPA)  against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC).

ThinkProgress

ThinkProgress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Inmates with mental health problems challenge court system – Timesonline.com: Police Fire Courts: mental health, john hinckley jr, prison,

Inmates with mental health problems challenge court system

This article was found in the Beaver County Times and discuses some of the issues faced by prisons with regards to folks with mental illnesses who are incarcerated.  The article was posted on April 2, 2011.  Some feel there is a connection between the increase in the number of mentally ill inmates and the closure of various state hospitals.

“Don’t Privatize Mental Health Care For Inmates”

This article was found in the October 17, 2007 issue of “The Tribune-Democrat” I’m not positive, but I believe this may be a paper out of Johnstown, PA, but I can’t say fro sure since the site didn’t readily reveal the location of the paper.  If I’m wrong, please let me know so that I can correct the location if it is wrong.  The articl focuses on the PSCOA’s views regarding the Privatizing of Forensic treatment Facilities

Don’t privatize mental health care for inmates

BY DONALD G. MCNANY

The Rendell administration’s intention to privatize the care, custody and control of mentally ill criminals is more than just bad public policy – it puts public safety at risk.

The state Department of Public Welfare has formally requested bids from private companies to take over the entire operation of Pennsylvania’s three secure, segregated units for these dangerous criminals. One of these units is housed at Mayview State Hospital in Allegheny County. 

According to the DPW plan, Mayview would be closed by the end of 2008, and these inmates would be transferred to Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County.

The stated objective in the DPW proposal can only be read one way: Do it cheaper by getting them out on the streets faster.

Beyond the stunning naiveté behind this severely flawed proposal, and even greater than the job security of some of our state’s most highly trained and dedicated civil servants, is the fundamental responsibility of government to protect its citizens.

Handing over this public trust to a for-profit company in the name of cost-cutting is an unnecessary and dangerous gamble.

Trying to pinch a few dollars when it comes to sexually deviant and violent criminals who have persistent and severe mental illnesses is outrageous and irresponsible.

One has to question why such a move is even being considered, and why the Rendell administration would spend so much time and resource to pursue such a wrongheaded course.

(Incidentally, this comes at a time when the administration is also intent on implementing a new policy that would allow for early release of thousands of so-called “nonviolent offenders.”)

It seems somebody is being led down the primrose path with that old and tired promise of “more for less.”

According to the DPW, privatization will cut costs by 20 percent while – at the same time – enhance services. These so-called enhancements would include an acceleration of the processing, evaluation and potential release of these inmates.

Tragically, the recidivism rate for these types of criminals is high. How many dollars saved can justify the repeat offense of a rapist or a pedophile?

Does the Rendell administration really want to take responsibility for such a policy?

The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association believes that the elimination of more than 200 “forensic” jobs held by PSCOA members is the opening move in an attempt to privatize the entire state corrections system.

This should concern all Pennsylvanians because privatization and our corrections system are a dangerous mix.

For-profit companies are just that – for profit. Pressure to produce a fat bottom line has no place in our state prison system. It would inevitably lead to less secure state hospitals and prisons because what ultimately drives the decision-making is profit – not security.

The group of PSCOA members who have been successfully providing this essential security are called Forensic Security Employees.

FSEs train extensively across several disciplines, including security and psychiatry. It is extremely dangerous work and the risk and incidence of serious injury are high. FSEs have suffered severe and career-ending injuries in the line of duty.

It takes time, dedication, specialized skills and decades of institutional knowledge and experience for these men and women to perform their jobs successfully.

The public knows little about FSEs and the three secure units inside our state hospitals because their record has been exemplary: There has never been a successful escape from any of these facilities since the creation of FSEs decades ago.

It is extremely disturbing to put these critical services on the auction block for the lowest bidder. No for-profit company can hope to duplicate the years of experience and knowledge FSEs bring to the job. The citizens of Pennsylvania should not be forced to accept a trial-and-error approach when it comes to the control and custody of mentally ill criminals.

If we’ve learned anything in recent years it’s that you don’t gamble with public safety, and you certainly don’t try to do it on the cheap.

PSCOA firmly believes this privatization effort by the Rendell administration should be stopped in its tracks.

It is unwarranted, dangerous, and it would ultimately pose a threat to the safety of our communities across the state.

Donald G. McNany is president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association.

Pennsylvania State Corections Officers Association Website

  I stubled across this site, and thought I would include it here, because it offers a different perspective then what I’ve seen from the DPW on the privatizing of Forensics in Pennsylvania.  It also includes a nice list of links to articles, and might be worth keeping an eye on since they seem to be adding article links regularly (at least that’s what it appears to be)

So, here’s the link to the PSCOA website ……

http://www.pscoa.org/dpw/

I’ll also be including the link on the page entitled “State Hospital Closures and Privatiztion Links” to make it easier for folks to find in the future.

“From Hospital To Jail To Hospital”

   This article originally seen in the Warren Times-Observer discusses concerns about how patients from Warren State Hospital that originated from other counties in many cases, end up being transfered to the Warren County Jail, and thenmore or less abandonded by their home county leaving Warren County to foot the bill for the person(s) with little or no help from the person’s originating county when it comes to covering the cost of housing the person, then eventually integrating them into the community.  In some ways I feel like other counties in a sense are saying, ‘not my problem’ once someone has been transferred from Warren State into the local jail system.  I don’t know what the answer is and I’m really not trying to point fingers at any one person, because I feel that Warren County is just as responsible for this mess as the counties who choose to decide that a person is no longer their financial responsibility once they land in a Warren County jail.  I’m guessing that the reverse has probably happened where Warren County patients in other facilities ended up getting dumped on the county the facility is in, and I don’t feel that it is right for this to go in either direction.

From Hospital To Jail To Hospital

By VICTORIA BARONE

11/28/2007 – Staff Writer

The Warren County Jail houses a number of inmates from neighboring counties who committed crimes while they were patients at Warren State Hospital.

Warren County Jail Warden Randy Ickert and Correctional Counselor Laura McDunn talked recently about how that happens.

How it works

If a patient is convicted of a crime while at the state hospital, and not sentenced to the state hospital forensic unit (or a state prison), they said, the patient becomes an inmate of the county jail.

McDunn explained that during an initial intake interview, it is determined if they are being treated for any type of mental health issue and what medications they may be taking. The jail confirms the information and will order medications as a courtesy, according to McDunn.

If a new inmate is not currently taking medication or undergoing treatment for mental health issues, and reports depression or other mental health issues, an appointment is made for the inmate to see a psychiatrist with Warren/Forest Human Services.

“There is a two- to three-month waiting list to see the psychiatrist,” Ickert said.

If intake interviews determine a need for counseling, the mental health counselor who visits the jail sees them, at the jail.

None of the services are mandated by law, according to Ickert.

“We are very fortunate to have Warren/Forest Human Services here,” McDunn said.

Group therapy is also offered through Family Services of Warren and Forest Counties, and Deerfield Behavioral Health.

Of course, in some cases, treatment is ordered by the court. Those orders clearly must be followed, Ickert said.

Many of the inmates who come to Warren County Jail from the state hospital are violent, according to Ickert, who described them as “disruptive and assaultive.”

Those inmates, who are often schizophrenic or with bipolar disorder, with an additional diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, take medication, which the jail must supply. Some inmates must have around-the-clock supervision.

If a patient convicted of criminal charges is deemed by the court to be suitable for a sentence at Warren State Hospital instead of the jail, that sentence can only be served in the state hospital’s Forensic Unit, Ickert said.

The Forensic Unit houses only males, therefore any women committed to the state hospital for a criminal sentence must be sent to Mayview State Hospital in the Pittsburgh area, which is scheduled to close by the end of 2008.

The only other such units for women are in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas, and there is a waiting list, according to McDunn.

“When they close Mayview, we’ll never be able to get them in,” McDunn said.

The majority of the jail’s inmates who come from the state hospital are women.

The court’s perspective

According to District Justice Laura Bauer, patients at Warren State Hospital who commit crimes are generally sent back to the state hospital’s forensic unit by the courts.

She said that the patients, “like any other person in society,” face fines and costs or an alternative sentence for summary offenses.

“I try to be creative with their sentence, because many of them are indigent,” Bauer said.

Money for fines and court costs generally come out of the state hospital budget, according to Bauer.

“So I try (to curtail fines and costs). They might have to do book reports. If they’re charged with a misdemeanor or felony, bail is set and they go to either jail or the forensic unit,” Bauer said. “Usually, if it’s a patient and they need incarceration, I contact the judge’s chambers and the judge will make an order that they receive their psychiatric treatment (at the state hospital).”

The court, Bauer said, tries to keep the patients out of the county jail “if it can be avoided. We don’t want them to go to jail. Sometimes they get discharged (from the state hospital) right around the time they come into court.”

Another problem is that there is no women’s unit in the state hospital forensic unit.

“They go to Mayview or sometimes wait in jail until there’s a bed at Mayview, or sometimes the state hospital will hold them until a bed is available,” Bauer said.

The state comments

Stacey Witalec, spokesperson for the state Department of Public Welfare, explained how the transfer of state hospital patients to county jail facilities works.

Witalec emphasized that a stay in the state hospital’s forensic unit is temporary, for the process of evaluation.

“So if you are within the county jail system and you go to your arraignment and hearing and the judge determines that you need an evaluation for incompetency, he has several options,” Witalec said.

The judge can refer the defendant to a forensic unit at a state hospital to determine if he or she is fit to stand trial.

“The length of stay is only between 70 and 120 days at forensic units. They’re not long-term units,” she said.

In instances where someone is deemed competent to stand trial, is convicted and sentenced to county jail, a future evaluation will be necessary if that person was serving a specified time period in the state hospital prior to the jail sentence, and it has not been completed.

If the person needs to be sent back to the state hospital to complete that sentence, they are housed with the general state hospital population, not in the forensic unit.

Once a person is sent to a county jail from a state hospital, that person becomes the responsibility of the county, according to Witalec. The county must offer any necessary treatment to the prisoner.

The state Department of Public Welfare wants to make certain that anyone in the court system is receiving the mental health treatment he or she needs, Witalec said.

She also noted, “Just because you’ve committed a crime doesn’t necessarily mean that you are mentally ill. Most people within our system are not violent, so the two are not connected. Can you say they (often) have drug and alcohol issues? Absolutely,” she said.

Concluding thoughts

McDunn and Ickert said the county is actually ahead of a number of other counties which do not provide the mental health services to inmates that Warren County does.

“Our resources are good,” Ickert said.

McDunn said that many times an inmate will ask for mental health services, but when he or she is released on bail, fails to keep the scheduled appointment.

“We see that a lot,” she said.

McDunn wonders where some of the patients will go, when and if the Forensic Unit closes.

“What are they going to do for those people?” she asked.

“They should go back to their (home) county,” Ickert said, but added that they don’t have transportation provided, and in some cases, have no way to return home.

“So they stay here, commit a crime, and there you go,” Ickert said.

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