Rapp Calls for Study to Determine Number of State Prison and County Inmates Suffering from Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
8/20/2007
The Department of Public Welfare’s (DPW) pending announcement of the closure of Mayview State Hospital in Allegheny County and the potential privatization of forensic staff at both the Warren and Norristown state hospitals, has prompted Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) to introduce a resolution calling for a study to determine the approximate number of state and county prison inmates that suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.
 
“Before one more state hospital closes all or part of its facilities, Pennsylvania needs to accurately determine how many of our state and county prison inmates are suffering from mental illness and would be properly served by being institutionalized rather than incarcerated along side actual criminals," said Rapp. “No matter what flowery words or statistics DPW or other Rendell administration officials come up with to creatively market the shifting of state mental hospital funding to fund yet another one of the governor’s pet, politically connected projects does not alter the inescapable and tragic reality of this situation.   Any time a state hospital is forced to shut down greatly increases the possibility that our most vulnerable citizens suffering from schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder and drug addiction will wind up unnecessarily behind bars or somehow otherwise unfairly exploited and victimized in mainstream society."
 
Currently serving 225 individuals from Allegheny, Beaver, Greene, Lawrence and Beaver counties and employing approximately 502 people, Mayview State Hospital is scheduled to close by Dec. 31, 2008.    According to DPW, in the last 25 years more than 10 state hospitals have “successfully closed" as resident population has dropped by 60 percent from almost 5,000 in the mid-1990s to approximately 1,927.   During the most recent closure of Harrisburg Hospital in 2006, 187 individuals were “transitioned” back into the community.
 
Citing, the May 2005 PBS Frontline documentary entitled The New Asylums, Rapp and members of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association who represent over 9,600 officers and employees, including the nearly 200 forensic officers who would be impacted if the DPW does in fact move forward with its plans to privatize both the Warren and Norristown forensic units, these numbers say nothing about what happens or where these patients go after they are discharged from state hospitals.
 
“This documentary provides the most recent information available regarding mental health care in all 50 state adult prison systems and whether there is an adequate number of properly trained mental health therapists to provide the proper level of care," said Rapp. “Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not faring well in either of these categories with 17 percent of our state’s total prison population or 40,890 inmates diagnosed as mentally ill as compared to only 150 therapists on staff to treat them as of September/October 2004.  
 
“If this tremendously skewed patient/therapist ratio was accurate then and based on the current mentally retarded services waiting list effecting citizens in my legislative district and across this Commonwealth, it stands to reason that Pennsylvania is now experiencing an even larger ‘Deinstitutionalization Psychiatric Titanic' in 2007. Just how large this epidemic is anyone’s guess, which makes the study called for in my resolution even more relevant and time sensitive."
 
According to The New Asylums documentary, which can be viewed on the Frontline section of the pbs.org Web site, Deinstitutionalization is the process of moving severely mentally ill people out of large state mental institutions and then closing part or all of those institutions which has been a major contributing factor to America’s ongoing mental illness crisis and the increasing number of imprisoned mentally ill people.
 
“One of the most personally appalling parts of this year’s state budget for me and which also factored heavily into my final NO vote was the governor’s insistence upon using more than $1.1 billion in gambling-dependent revenue over the next 30 years to build a new Philadelphia Convention Center and a new arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins," said Rapp “If the governor is so committed to providing quality health care to all Pennsylvania citizens why is he so eager to hand out hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare, while denying thousands of our state’s most vulnerable citizens the mental health treatment they need by continuing to close our state hospitals, dismantling our state hospital forensic units and entrusting these essential public services to the lowest possible bidder on the privatization auction block?"
 
In addition to sponsoring her resolution, Rapp has also offered to host a House Republican Policy Committee hearing on this matter and extended a personal invitation to Speaker Dennis O’Brien to visit Warren State Hospital to see for himself the wide array of invaluable and cost-efficient mental health and community services that this facility is currently providing to Northwestern Pennsylvania citizens.
 
“Transforming our state and county correctional facilities into insane asylums reminiscent of the 19th century is an inexcusable crime against humanity leading to greater prison overcrowding, higher taxpayer costs and even more severely mental ill individuals who require treatment ending up homeless, behind bars and eventually in the morgue well before their time," said Rapp   “I encourage Speaker O’Brien and anyone else looking for reasons why Pennsylvania should not close down its state hospitals or privatize its state hospital forensic units to schedule a visit to the Warren County State Hospital as soon as possible."
 
Rep. Kathy Rapp
65th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

(814) 723-5203
(717) 787-1367
www.RepRapp.com
Contact: Ty McCauslin
House Republican Public Relations
(717) 772-9979