Keeping Those With Serious Mental Illness Out of Prisons Focus of Public Meeting at HACC on April 25, Hosted by Dauphin County Leaders and the Council of State Government's Justice Center

A public meeting will be held at Harrisburg Area Community College, Midtown 2, Room 206, 1500 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg, on Wednesday, April 25 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. to recommendations on how Dauphin County can reduce the number of people with serious mental illness (SMI) in prison.

Dauphin County Commissioners Jeff Haste, Mike Pries and George P. Hartwick, III, along with the county’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board, asked the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center to conduct the in-depth analysis of how the criminal justice system is dealing with individuals with SMI. Done as part of CSG’s nationwide “Stepping Up’’ initiative, the goal is to get those with mental illness into treatment programs rather than keeping them behind bars.

The Dauphin County Commissioners will also be briefed on the report during the board’s public meeting at 10 a.m. in the 4th Floor Hearing Room, Dauphin County Administration Building, 2 S. Second Street.

In June 2016, Dauphin County joined Stepping Up, a national movement to mobilize local and state leaders to commit to reducing the number of people who have mental illnesses in jails. Across the country more than 425 counties—23 of which are Pennsylvania counties—have also launched Stepping Up initiatives.

As part of the report being released Wednesday, CSG will outline recommendations on how to improve policies, programs and practices to get those with SMI into treatment instead of prison. Incarcerating those with mental illness is both costlier for taxpayers and doesn’t provide the help individuals need to allow them to successfully rejoin society and break the patterns that lead to re-arrest. 

The Pennsylvania Departments of Corrections, Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and van Ameringen Foundation funded the study.

Conducted over a 12-month period, the analysis found that like other county jails across the country, Dauphin County Prison has a higher number of people with SMI than found in the general population. In total, 16 percent of people released from DCP in 2016 were identified as having SMI, compared with four percent of the general population nationally.

Other studies have found the number of people who have SMI in jails is often three to six times higher than that of the general public. 

In commissioning the report and moving forward with the recommendations, the Dauphin County Commissioners are committed to finding alternatives that place those with mental illness in treatment programs and not prison.