Saturday, November 11, 2006


Help for the Mentally Ill in Prisons in Indiana

Deal on mental health services for ex-cons
By Ken Kusmer
Associated Press
November 11, 2006

Needy, mentally ill prison inmates who have faced the prospect of losing their medications and other treatment when they complete their sentences are getting help from a new pact between the state's corrections and social services agencies.
Under an agreement signed recently by the heads of the two agencies, prison staff and their counterparts at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration will work together during inmates' final months in prison to make them eligible on the outside for mental health care. It includes prescription drugs, funded by Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor.
The agreement, which also covers enrollments for food stamps and other benefits, marks a step forward in mental health care in Indiana because nearly one in five Indiana Department of Correction inmates is treated behind bars for schizophrenia, bipolar disease, addictions and other disorders that in many cases contributed to them ending up in prison.
Many mentally ill prisoners lose treatments as they move from behind bars to community settings where they might have little support from families or other means, said Mike Kempf, who works with prisoners as a volunteer for the Indiana chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness.
"I think it's a huge step forward. It looks like they're trying to link the two systems together, and that's important," Kempf said Friday.
Prison populations have multiplied in recent decades in part because psychiatric hospitals closed, leaving many who could benefit from treatment unable to receive it because they lack access to clinics, cannot afford it or choose not to. Once in prison, the state provides care.
Thirteen percent of inmates in Indiana prisons take medicine to treat mental illness. Eighteen percent receive mental health treatment ranging from counseling to more intensive therapy, Correction Commissioner J. David Donahue has said.
"They just relocated. They just moved into the correction system," Donahue said during a tour of the prison system's psychiatric hospital at New Castle earlier this year.
The new agreement encourages prison staff to contact FSSA about 90 days before a sentence ends to have eligible prisoners apply for Medicaid and other benefits such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
"That way we do not risk the gap in the treatment or the medication," FSSA spokesman Dennis Rosebrough said.
More help might be on the way. The Indiana Commission on Mental Health recently approved proposed legislation that calls for jails and prisons to forward inmates' mental health records to doctors and clinics that provide treatment after release. The General Assembly still must act on the proposal.
DOC's agreement with FSSA is another in a series that it has struck with other state agencies to help ease former prisoners' transition after release. Other deals have been with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to quickly provide government-issued identification cards, the Department of Workforce Development to point ex-cons toward jobs on the outside, and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority to help inmates find homes.
The agreements are aimed at curbing a recidivism rate of about 40 percent of Indiana inmates returning behind bars within three years of release. This year, the DOC will release more than 16,000 offenders into society.

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