By Joshua Vaughn
Each year an estimated 2 million people with serious mental illness are admitted into county jails and prisons in the United States, according to Richard Cho, Council of State Governments Justice Center director of behavioral health.
On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel and Cho announced that Pennsylvania would join the Stepping Up Initiative aimed at reducing that number and connecting people with needed services.
“The trend we are seeing across the country … is a growing number of people who have serious mental illness who are in jails,” Cho said. “They are not only coming into jails at a higher rate, but once booked into jails they actually spend twice as long as people without mental illness just awaiting trial in jail.”
Cho said the prevalence of mental illness in the general population is about 5 percent.
However, roughly 17 percent of people in local jails and prisons are diagnosed with a mental illness, Cho said.
Nearly 80 percent of those people also have issues with substance abuse, he said.
“You’re talking about people with serious mental illnesses, but also additional challenges of having substance use and addiction issues,” Cho said.