By Jackie Padilla
According to the Stepping Up Initiative, about 2 million people with serious mental illnesses are booked into local jails each year. And now representatives from across the state are working together to lower that number.
Representatives from all 67 counties in Pennsylvania were invited to a two-day summit at the Penn Stater Hotel this week for the Stepping Up Initiative. The campaign focuses on decreasing the number of inmates struggling with mental illnesses in local facilities.
Richard Cho, Director of Behavioral Health for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, said “What Stepping Up is, is really an attempt to say we need to do something different for this population and for this crisis.”
The national campaign was started by the American Psychiatric Association Foundation and the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Cho said it highlights an important issue that some behind bars aren’t getting the help they need.
“Right now many counties have really high percentages of people with serious mental illnesses in their jails. And jails aren’t equipped necessarily to provide the right mental health care,” Cho said.
Officials from Centre County said they are working to help the cause. In September the warden for the county’s correctional facility said a new system was implemented to help those with poor mental health with peer mentors and special recreational programming.
Natalie Corman, Human Services Administrator with the Centre County Government, said it’s a step in the right direction and county offices are working to also make an impact for life after incarceration. “We need to be able to help them while they’re in our facility as well as in our community,” Corman said.
The Human Services and Correctional Facility departments in Centre County make up half of the expenditures for the proposed 2018 budget. Corman said this illustrates how the county and jail work closely to enhance programs in the region. And that giving inmates with mental illnesses the right resources or even alternative options from jail time is important to consider.
“They’re a human being and we need to recognize that if there’s ways that we can help them while we work with them, and they’re in our correctional facility, we would want that,” Corman said.
There’s a big focus on helping those inmates struggling after incarceration to stop any domino effect in the jail system.