New Jersey is experimenting with programs offering services to mentally ill ex-convicts, such as housing and job assistance, medication management, counseling, and education, reports the Associated Press. Until this year, the state didn’t offer any services for the mentally ill once they left prison. “The dilemma was, ‘Where do I put a person like this?’ ” said Kevin McHugh of the state parole board. “We don’t want to keep them in jail, and the likelihood for them to fail on the outside was high.”
The two pilot programs for inmates are run by separate groups and funded by different sources. “People who have a serious mental illness – bipolar, major depression, schizophrenia – they’re three times more likely to end up in prison or jail than in a state hospital. That doesn’t make any sense at all,” said John Monahan of Greater Trenton Behavioral HealthCare, the nonprofit that runs one of the new programs. Another program, PROMISE, or Program for Returning Offenders with Mental Illness Safely and Effectively, is funded by the state and run by Volunteers of America in Camden. It operates on a shoestring $400,000 budget, providing up to six months of postincarceration services to paroled inmates who have a history of criminal behavior related to untreated mental illness. The program, which began in the spring, has 16 parolees and can accommodate 30. So far, five people have finished it; two committed parole violations and returned to prison.