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 December 15, 2016 - Dauphin County Stepping Up to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Local Prison

HARRISBURG, PADEC. 15, 2016—Dauphin County leaders launched a data-driven project today, in conjunction with the national Stepping Up Initiative, with the goal of reducing the number of people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders in its prison.

“Dauphin County has already taken important, successful steps toward addressing the issue of mental illness in our prison,” Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick, III said. ““At the same time, there are too many people cycling repeatedly in and out of prison. Through this project, we’re looking to assemble data that helps me and other county leaders track what progress we’re making in slowing this revolving door and connecting people with addictions and mental illnesses to the support they need. We want to make sure we are getting the best possible return on every dollar we invest.”

With guidance from the nonprofit Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, Dauphin County will receive intensive technical assistance that will assist them in answering four key questions: How many individuals with mental illnesses are in the county prison, what is their average length of stay, are they being connected with behavioral care upon release, and what is their recidivism rate?

The ultimate findings will guide the county commissioners and the CSG Justice Center to develop a plan to address the issue through policy and programming recommendations in 2017.

“Talk to a corrections officers in our prison and they will tell you that more people with mental health needs are entering our jails,” said Ed Marsico, Dauphin County District Attorney said. “This data will give us a precise snapshot of the number off people with mental health needs in our system and what the needs are for that population. The plan we will develop will help us craft a roadmap that makes sure we are providing appropriate diversion services when necessary and building upon public safety.”

Today’s launch is only the latest action Dauphin County has taken to address this issue, including launching a Drug and Veterans Problem Solving Courts, ensuring that all local police departments are using the same records management system to help with data collection, and better re-entry planning to make sure that people leaving the criminal justice system are connected with services that they need.

Dauphin County’s commitment to the issue of mental illness in its prison is in lockstep with its pledge to take concrete steps toward advancing the goals of Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails. Dauphin is one of more than 300 counties—including 11 in Pennsylvania—that has joined the initiative since its launch in May 2015.

Each year, an estimated two million people with serious mental illnesses are admitted to jails across the nation – a rate that’s three to six times higher than that of the general public. Nearly three-quarters of these adults also have drug and alcohol use problems. Once incarcerated, individuals with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of returning to incarceration than those without these illnesses.

Stepping Up, a partnership between the CSG Justice Center, The National Association of Counties, and The American Psychiatric Association Foundation, is designed to rally leaders around the goal of achieving a reduction in the number of people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders in jail.

“As someone who previously ran a county jail, I applaud Dauphin County for being at the forefront of efforts to address a problem that plagues counties throughout the country,” said John Wetzel, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections and co-chair of the CSG Justice Center. “The data and technical assistance that the county will receive will be invaluable in helping build a better criminal justice system that will effect positive changes for the citizens of Dauphin County and Pennsylvania.”

The project has committed funding support from key state and federal agencies, including Pennsylvania Departments of Corrections, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

 “Even one day in jail can harm an individual living with a behavioral health issue,” said Ted Dallas, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. “Dauphin County’s continued commitment to addressing this issue has once again been demonstrated today and we stand ready to support them and all Pennsylvania counties to achieve their goals.”

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ABOUT THE CSG JUSTICE CENTER

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities. For more information about the Justice Center, visit www.csgjusticecenter.org.

Contact: arichards@dauphinc.org
Category: Dauphin County
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