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Secretary Wetzel Speaks to Group about Inmate Mental Illness and Mental Health Programs

Tags: DOC
April 30, 2019 12:00 AM
By: Sue McNaughton

PA Coat of Arms

On April 26, DOC Secretary John Wetzel spoke about mental health issues and programs for inmates at the Carbon County Interagency and Family Collaborative Board's Human Services Priorities Breakfast in Jim Thorpe, Pa.

Secretary Wetzel also encouraged the creation of and support for mental health diversion programs that would provide services to keep people healthy in the community, which also would reduce the number of mentally ill individuals entering the state prison system, which was never intended to be a large-scale mental health services provider.

"Thirty-three percent of our inmate population requires some sort of mental health services," Secretary Wetzel said. "Over the last few years and under the guidance of Gov. Tom Wolf, DOC employees have continued their efforts to ensure that every inmate is evaluated for mental health needs and that those individuals are monitored and provided necessary services."

Wetzel said that being in prison without having mental health needs can be tough for individuals, so helping those who require mental health services to get those services and to become and remain stabilized while in prison is vital to the individual's mental health and to this agency's operations.

"Over the years, the DOC has provided Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to every DOC employee," Wetzel said. "We've also instructed eligible inmates to become certified peer support specialists, who help to deescalate situations and who can use that certification to obtain employment in the community after their release from prison. Today, we have more than 500 inmates – or about 20 to 30 – serving in this capacity in each facility."

In addition to MHFA and peer support specialists, the DOC also:

  • Appointed a mental health advocate who is responsible for ensuring the DOC is delivering mental health services that are timely and appropriate and in accordance with DOC policy and community standards.
  • Provides female inmates with a thorough trauma screening upon reception to the system and connected inmates with appropriate follow-up care
  • Partners with various advocacy groups and leading researchers in the field of mental illness to analyze current systems and develop initiatives to improve mental health care.
  • Included language in its contract with MHM Services, the provider of inmate mental health care, to include performance-based incentives and penalties.  The contract provides incentives for positive outcomes for offenders to further DOC's goal that inmates leaving the system are better than when they entered it.  The contract incentivizes treatment that reduces misconduct and mental health recommitment rates for the mentally ill.
  • Provides Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training to officers and staff who work closely with mentally ill inmates. The training provides them with skills to deescalate crisis situations.
  • Enhanced its classification and treatment procedures for seriously mentally ill inmates to better capture and track those individuals who suffer from the most severe forms of mental illness, requiring the most treatment services.
  • Developed new treatment units and implemented more-robust misconduct diversionary procedures for inmates with serious mental illness, thus eliminating such inmates being housed in restricted housing units.

"I am extremely proud of the work our employees have done with inmate mental health programs and services," Wetzel said. "They have made the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections a national and international leader in this area."


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