To better understand the growing mental health crisis in Pennsylvania jails, Spotlight PA and the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism sent a survey to every facility in the state asking officials there to describe the resources they provide to people behind bars.
Warden Christopher Schell of the Centre County Correctional Facility was one of the first people to respond — and gave one of the most positive self-assessments among the 20 jails that filled out the survey.
Schell gave Centre County the highest score – a five out of five – when it came to the jail’s ability to address mental health needs among incarcerated people.
The facility employs a mental health counselor who assists people experiencing a crisis, he said. Through a contractor, the jail brings a mental health clinician on-site for 30 hours a week.
The mental health counselor also supports people who, because of their mental or intellectual condition, cannot participate in any legal proceedings. These people, who state courts have deemed “incompetent” to stand trial, may require specialized treatment before their case can move forward.
The Centre County jail housed three people needing competency treatment when Schell responded to the survey in August. While many other officials described issues with providing care for these vulnerable residents, Schell said Centre County has not faced challenges and gave the facility a four out of five for its ability to meet their needs.
Schell said his staff try to determine what treatment an incarcerated person was receiving before they were arrested. If the individual refuses medication, doesn’t respond to counseling, and their mental condition starts deteriorating, staff take additional steps.
“We will contact the District Attorney's Office or the Public Defender's Office and speak to the attorney that may be overseeing the individuals’ case,” Schell said. “We will explain the situations and request one of the attorneys to request a competency evaluation through the courts.”
Read more about the state of mental health in Pennsylvania jails here.
—Danielle Ohl, investigative reporter