Recent Events and Policy Updates


By Cary Holley


Unfortunately, the trend of prisons being disproportionately filled with historically

marginalized groups does not exclude those who struggle with mental health. According

to a 2014 report from the American Psychological Association, 54% of state prisoners

and 64% of jail inmates reported concerns about mental health. [1] A report by PennLive

found that 28% of incarcerated people in Pennsylvania reported having a mental illness.

[2] Although some important steps have been taken to mitigate the specific issues that

this population faces, there is still much more work to be done.


A few years ago the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against the

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections claiming that putting people who suffer from

serious mental health problems in solitary confinement was unconstitutional. In settling

this suit, the Pennsylvania DOC agreed to no longer put this group of people in solitary

confinement. [3] So, until as recently as 2015 some of the most at risk people in the

Pennsylvania prison population were subject to further suffering. An ongoing issue in

Pennsylvania is the long wait time for access to mental health treatment. In May of last

year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a complaint that the wait

list for treatment has become both intolerable and unconstitutional. On their site they

note: “many persons with mental illness are staying jails for over a year awaiting space

in a mental health facility.” [4]


At the national level, some bills have been introduced in Congress to provide more

access to mental health treatment. In February of last year H.R. 982, the TREAT Act,

was introduced. The bill allows for “federal payment for qualified substance use disorder

services furnished to inmates in public institutions under state Medicaid programs.” [5]

In April, H.R. 1853 “Kalief’s Law” was introduced to: “establish a pilot program to provide

pre-release mental health screenings and post-release mental health and social

services to individuals who are incarcerated. . .” [6] However, policies aimed at

combatting the other detrimental issues that this specific population faces are noticeably

absent. It is vital that legislation at the national, state, and local levels is passed that will

directly aid this critically disadvantaged and ever-growing prison population.














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