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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 4, 2017

Pennsylvania Counties Gather at Statewide Summit to Address Mental Illness Crisis in Local Jails  

State College, PA - A two-day summit bringing together counties from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania kicked off Monday as part of Stepping Up, a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.

The Pennsylvania Stepping Up Summit will host elected county leaders, state officials, representatives from state and national organizations, and others to discuss challenges, best practices, and advance their plans for measuring and reducing the prevalence of mental illnesses in local jails.

“Despite the best efforts of communities to make an impact, there are more people with mental illnesses in local jails than ever before, the majority of which don’t pose a public safety risk,” said John Wetzel, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections and board member of The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. “I applaud the counties and leaders who are coming together to evaluate what their jails are doing and defining concrete steps so that they can take action and measure progress once they return home.”

Pennsylvania has already advanced a number of innovative strategies to fund treatment, supervision, and community support for people with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system, including establishing Criminal Justice Advisory Boards in nearly every county in the state, providing innovation grants that focus on diversion programs, establishing funding for housing supports, and improving information sharing processes as well as mapping existing services in local communities.

In addition, Dauphin County, PA, launched a data-driven project, guided in part by technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center, to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses their jail. The findings from the project will be used to develop a plan to address the issue through policy and programming recommendations by April 2018.

“The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has already taken major steps to address this issue and now it’s time to build upon those past successes and chart a path forward to ensure that people with mental illnesses are getting the care and treatment that they need while also easing the strain on local budgets and strengthening public safety,” said Charles Ramsey, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

At the summit, county teams attended working sessions framed by six questions related to the commitment of their local leadership, their use of screening and assessments, the existing level of baseline data in their county, the degree to which they track progress, and other considerations. As participants, Stepping Up counties receive access to an online toolkit containing archived webinars, planning tools, resources, and information on technical assistance and distance-learning opportunities to assist with their efforts.

“Connecting people with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders to the right interventions so that they can start down the path to recovery is key to reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails,” said Teresa Miller, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. “This begins by ensuring that people are correctly assessed for mental illnesses when they are booked into jail and that we are collecting baseline data at the county level so we accurately know the size of this problem, how long these people are staying in jail, what their recidivism rates are, and how many of them are being connected to services after they leave jail.”

Stepping Up launched in May 2015 as a partnership between the CSG Justice Center, The National Association of Counties, and The American Psychiatric Association Foundation. The initiative has rallied more than 400 counties, representing 40 percent of the U.S. population, to commit to actions that will help reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. Those counties include 17 Pennsylvania counties, many of which were represented at the summit. The Pennsylvania Stepping Up Initiative was launched at the statewide PCCD conference in April 2016.

“County leaders across the Commonwealth, from jurisdictions of all sizes, are united around one central truth: Jails should no longer be de facto mental health treatment facilities,” said Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. “Each county no matter how different in size or population faces its own challenges. This summit will better position them to address this crisis and implement successful policies and infrastructure to improve responses to people with mental illnesses in jails.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania were the co-sponsors of the statewide summit, along with the partners of the national Stepping Up Initiative.

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ABOUT THE STEPPING UP INITIATIVE

Stepping Up is a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails. The initiative—a collaboration between the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation—asks communities to come together to develop an action plan that can be used to achieve measurable impact in local criminal justice systems of all sizes across the country. For more information visit https://stepuptogether.org.

Contact: Allen Houston
Phone: 646-753-0050
Email: ahouston@csg.org