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.
This article appeared in the August 17, 2010 edition of “Public Opinion” I thought it was great to see that Franklin is beginning to better train its first responders in how to better deal with folks who are mentally ill, but I have to ask …. when is the rest of the state going to do the same?
I found this article in my local newspaper, the Warren Times Observer in the March 19, 2008 issue. I got the impression that Joan Erney was asking for plans to be made, and there were signs of possible resistance on the part of representatives of Warren and possibly Forest County.
Crisis plan urged for psychiatric intervention
By LYDIA COTTRELL
The deputy secretary of the state’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services met with the Forest-Warren Human Services’ governing board on Tuesday morning to discuss mental health patients and the jail system.
Joan Erney laid out the issues the counties are facing. She acknowledged the problem of people with mental issues becoming incarcerated because treatment is not received before a law is broken.
“That’s really not what we want to see,” Erney told board members at the Forest County Courthouse. A goal for the counties would be to create a community resource that would enable someone to receive outpatient care before the mental illness gets out of hand and incarceration is the end result.
For Erney, the key to slowing the frequency at which mental health patients are imprisoned is community resources.
“What’s the crack people are falling through?” Warren County Commissioner John Bortz asked.
She said the first step is to identify the problems and lay out a course of action. “You don’t have to put money on the table,” she said. “You have to put a plan on the table.”
In the past, the issues were brought forward and a group of district attorneys, judges and constituents was formed to talk about the issue. “It sounds like it dates back five or six years,” Erney said. It was suggested that the counties again start a dialogue between those people and get a handle on the situation.
The main suggestion was developing a crisis system, which would serve to help people with mental health issues before a criminal problem arises. That would also decrease the number of people who seek help at Warren State Hospital when all that is really needed is outpatient services.
Kushner agreed that a licensed crisis system would a be helpful; however, the geographical layout of the area poses an obstacle. “It’s the distance,” she said.
“Our people spend a lot of time on the road,” said Warren County Commissioner John Eggleston. “That’s time not spent with clients.”
Eggleston was also concerned with the necessity of the crisis system. “What are the numbers here?” he asked. “How many crises will we have in three months?” For example, he said the county contracts with an outside
HAZMAT team because the county cannot justifying paying for a full-time team.
He added that the Warren County Jail was never meant to be mental health facility.
Erney agreed and said that is what she wanted to hear. “There are more people with mental illness in jail,” she said.
Money was another issue Erney wanted to address. She said that statewide, Human Services did not receive a cost of living adjustment. A two-percent cost of living increase would amount to $100 million across the state, she said.
However, she said, the problem does not lie in having enough money, but in the counties not spending enough money. Erney indicated that carryover, money not spent during the last fiscal year by Forest-Warren Counties Human Services totaled $500,000. Across the state, the amount was $6 million.
“You say you don’t have resources,” Erney said, but the counties are not spending the allocated money.
Eggleston attributed the carryover to the difficulty of hiring people. Because the county cannot compete with the wages provided by state jobs, applicants are sparse. “We’re in a tough spot in term of trying to attract people,” he said.
Erney said that if her office is alerted early enough in the fiscal year, then help can be provided. “We have a lot of ideas about how to spend your money,” she chuckled.
The board was encouraged by Erney to begin a dialogue between district attorney, judges and other legal officials to gain insight to all the problems regarding the jail system and mental health patients. She told the group to lay out a plan with the fiscal implications and that she would return to the area in the fall.