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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: January 15, 2015 01:51 PM
From: Representative Mike Carroll
To: All House members
Subject: New Mental Health Facility to Relieve Prison Waiting Lists
In the near future I intend to introduce legislation which will mandate the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to add an additional facility to house mentally ill inmates who are currently in county prisons waiting for an opening in one of our two current state mental health facilities, Torrance State Hospital and Norristown State Hospital.

Recently, the PA Department of Corrections has faced criticism and litigation surrounding the treatment of mentally ill inmates. A February 2014 U.S. Department of Justice investigation found that systemic deficiencies within the PDOC’s treatment of mentally ill inmates are caused in part by a lack of resources, including inadequate staffing and limited bed space in more therapeutic settings. As a result, prison staff are hesitant to recommend transfers and prisoners face an arduous referral process and prolonged time on waiting lists while not receiving the treatment they need.

As of November 2014, there were over 50,000 inmates in the Pennsylvania prison system, exceeding its intended capacity by about 3,800 inmates. About 24 percent of these inmates are receiving psychological or psychiatric treatment, and around 4,000 inmates and considered seriously mentally ill. Our jails and prisons are not equipped to provide these offenders with the mental health resources they need. Pennsylvania’s two state psychiatric hospitals can offer superior treatment but are subject to capacity limitations and a lengthy waiting process. For example, Norristown’s forensic unit for criminally committed patients can only house 136 patients and is often at or near capacity. Similarly, prisoners in western Pennsylvania often spend three or more months on a waiting list for the equally overburdened Torrance hospital. An additional facility will clear up valuable space and resources in our stretched-thin state and county prisons and reduce the time mentally ill inmates spend waiting for proper treatment.

A new facility will alleviate the pressure on our prison system and provide more adequate mental health services to foster the safety and eventual rehabilitation of prisoners. I hope you will consider joining me in the important legislation.

Introduced as HB432