PA Overhauls Prison Mental Treatment, Ends Solitary As Discipline


The end of solitary confinement as discipline for seriously mentally ill inmates is among changes, years in the making, by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Nearly a quarter of inmates receive psychiatric or psychological care, and one in 12 suffer from severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depressive disorder, said Dr. Robert Marsh, department psychology director. Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel said prisons aren't the ideal place for people with mental health needs, but the state isn't allowed to turn anyone away.

The changes are “not a quick fix, but we're pretty pleased with the new system that we've built, and moving forward we're pretty confident that it's as good” as that in any other state, Wetzel said. The 2013 closure of the State Correctional Institution Cresson, which handled many mentally ill inmates but was faulted for disciplining them with solitary confinement, compelled the department to expand and improve treatment options in other prisons. Inmates that pose a danger to themselves or others, but refuse needed psychiatric care, can be involuntarily committed to special units. In addition to mental health first aid training now being provided to all prison staff, many employees are going through a 32-hour crisis intervention class.

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