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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Changes headed for state prisons

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections released a statement Monday stating that the Mental Health Services Contract was awarded to MHM Services.
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  • - The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections released a statement Monday stating that the Mental Health Services Contract was awarded to MHM Services. MHM Services previously held the contract until it expired on Nov. 30 of this year. The $91 million, five-year contract "will continue to deliver psychiatric services for DOC inmates," the release states. "Psychology services will be provided using the DOC staff; the same method that was in place previously." Cries for change The reason for the changes in how inmates with serious mental illness and/or intellectual disabilities are treated stems directly from a probe into State Correctional Facility (SCI) at Cresson in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. According the report released by the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) in May, it was found that SCI Cresson "violated the civil rights of inmates with serious mental and/or intellectual disabilities by keeping them in solitary confinement" for between 22 to 23 hours per day for an indeterminate amount of time. The duration an inmate was confined for ranged from months to years at a time. Prisoners at the Cresson facility were often denied "basic necessitates" and were subject "to harsh and punitive conditions, including excessive uses of force." The USDOJ found that "using solitary confinement as a form of punishment violates the inmates rights" through the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The extensive investigation also found the treatment of those inmates to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ACA). While it was announced by the USDOJ that the Cresson facility would be shuttered, the problematic policies and practices surrounding solitary confinement "appear indicative of what is occurring statewide." At that time, the USDOJ notified Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett that the investigation would be expanded "to include all prisons in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections." By including all prisons in the state, it will help the USDOF find out which other prisons "also engage in the unlawful use of prolongs and extreme isolation of prisoner with serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities." Revamped contract The new contract with MHM Services is "the first of its kind in the United States," according the Department of Corrections (DOC). "No longer are we issuing contracts for just a service," said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. "From this point on, our contracts will focus on results. The new contract includes performance measures that will ensure taxpayers are getting what they pay for, including inmates who leave our system better than when they entered it." As part of the new, redesigned contract, MHM will receive financial incentives to: • Reduce the number of misconducts for mentally ill offenders; • Reduce the number of inmates recommitted to prison mental health units; and • Lower the number of recommitments to prison residential treatment units. Local impact According to the PADOJ monthly population report for October, SCI Waymart has a total institution population of 1,462 inmates with a bed capacity of 1,522. This number includes 81 inmates in the Waymart Forensic Treatment Center. The physically present population breakdown places 1,253 inmates in the general population, nine in restricted housing AC, 27 in restricted housing DC and 86 inmates in mental health units. Those 86 inmates in the mental health unit are a part of the 21 percent of Pennsylvania inmates who receive mental health services. Statewide, that total is 10,000 inmates. Press Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Susan McNaughton provided added insight into what prisons like SCI Waymart can expect to see on the local level. "As far as our prisons are concerned, it's business as usual. We shouldn't see a change in the way mental health services are delivered." McNaughton also said while there was fear that already established prison psychologists could lose their job, that is not the case. "The jobs will not be privatized. The psychology services, like counseling, will all be done using current DOC staff," she said. She added that the biggest change "is that we are holding the contractor responsible for their performance." "This is the first time that we've used performance based language to hold the contractor accountable," she said. "We are one of only three states that are going to use this language."
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