A nationwide initiative to reduce imprisonment of people with mental illness is hosting a two-day summit in State College on Monday and Tuesday. The Pennsylvania Stepping Up Summit calls for better practices in evaluating and treating mental illness.
Christian Leinbach is chairman of the Berks County Commissioners and has been working on the Stepping Up initiative since before it was launched in 2015. Leinbach said his county jail has about 1,000 people on a daily average. Over half of that population faces mental illness.
“We’re not set up to be mental health facilities," Leinbach said. "But the sad reality is we are the primary provider of mental health care in the United States. I think that’s a problem. I think that’s a tragedy.”
Richard Cho is the director of behavioral health for the Council of State Governments Justice Center. He said putting more mental health resources in jails isn’t the solution.
“It’s about how do we both increase the availability of community-based treatment, but also put in place the processes and programs that enable us to divert people who don’t pose a public safety risk from having to spend any time in jail,” Cho said.
So far, 17 Pennsylvania counties have joined the initiative. They passed resolutions to collect data, as well as to reduce both the number of those with mental illness in jails and how long they stay.