PA Overhauls Approach to Prison Mental Health Care

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Pennsylvania is taking an innovative approach to mental health care in prisons. Inmates and staff alike train to reach a mutual understanding about how to deal with the myriad issues involved, CNN reports. It’s an approach born from necessity, after a scathing government investigation into the state’s prison practices. The investigation began after a lawsuit was filed by the Disability Rights Network. The Department of Justice launched the new approach in 2013 in one prison and then expanded it to the entire Pennsylvania prison system.

State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel says that a quarter of the inmates in the corrections system struggle with some kind mental illness. Before the investigation, inmates with mental illness could be sent into solitary confinement. The investigation, which was closed in April, resulted in an overhaul of the state’s approach to mental health care. Inmates with mental illness are no longer held in solitary confinement. Additionally, all 15,000 to 16,000 staff members are trained in Mental Health First Aid. Trainees learn how to identify warning signs of a suicide attempt, for example, and how to intervene when someone is experiencing delusions.

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