Prison Mental Health Program Becoming Burden on County

By Mallory Lane

Published 08/19 2014 06:12PM

Updated 08/19 2014 06:35PM

BELLEFONTE, CENTRE COUNTY - As the number of prisoners in need of mental health assistance grows, so are concerns about how to afford that increasing care.

Four state correctional facilities in the Commonwealth provide what are called Behavioral Health Units inside the prison.

These units are based inside the prisons and are essentially offered to inmates in need of inpatient mental health care.

One of those facilities includes SCI Rockview in Centre County. Last fiscal year alone, they saw 208 involuntary mental health patients and officials there are concerned this growing number is overwhelming the system.

The program was implemented in 2005 and it requires a lot of resources from the counties assigned to it.

Centre County officials said now it's not just becoming a concern with the matter of money, but also in the matter of manpower.

"Part of the issue is the reimbursement, but also the amount of time it takes away from the day to day operations in serving the needs of the individuals who reside in Centre County on a permanent basis," County Administrator Tim Boyde said.

Because it's a state prison, Rockview houses inmates from all over, not just those from Centre County.

That doesn't stop the county and local taxpayers form having to foot the bill for this program.

"I think looking at streamlining our court system, if we can do that, if there is a mechanism to pull some of those pieces out or provide additional assistance in the public defender's office, I think would benefit everybody," Boyde said.

The American Bar Association recommends a public defender works on no more than 200 mental health cases a year. Right now, Centre County's Chief Public Defender has more than that and the county is paying for it, not just monetarily.

Boyde said 77 percent of court-related hearings that occur in Centre County, specific to mental health issues, happen at SCI Rockview, meaning the public defender's office is pulled from other cases.

"I'm looking at some of our monthly costs of about $24,000. We get reimbursed probably $21,000," Boyde said. "I think what we need to look at is some assistance when it comes to our public defender's office and some sort of ability to address those issues and continue the day to day operations."

Centre County officials said it's been a struggle to get the attention of the State Department of Corrections and the State Department of Public Welfare, but thanks to Senator Jake Corman's office, they have been able to set up a meeting in Harrisburg Wednesday to discuss the matter.

Officials believe this could be the first of many meetings regarding this issue.

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