November 10, 2013

Prescribing solutions

Dan Barth, a social worker at the Portage County Jail, said county mental health services in and out of jail “have shrunk because of fiscal pressure.” Nora G. Hertel/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Main story

Mentally ill ex-inmates lack treatment, meds

State officials, advocates agree that reforms could cut recidivism. Read the whole story here.

Advocates for offenders with mental illnesses suggest a number of approaches they feel would expand released offenders’ access to services and medication.

  • Hire more county psychiatrists. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and his Task Force on Mental Health have recommended the creation of a “psychiatry shortage grant program” to encourage psychiatrists to relocate to the underserved parts of the state.
  • Employ more social workers at county jails. Dan Barth, social worker at the Portage County jail, helps to set inmates up with mental health services before they are released. But not all county jails have a staff person to ease that transition. “This is an opportunity to intervene in these people’s lives,” Barth said
  • Protect Medicaid enrollment for offenders. Currently, inmates lose Medicaid coverage when they are incarcerated. Re-enrollment takes effort, proof of Wisconsin residency, and, for some, multiple attempts. Disability Rights Wisconsin and the federal government have urged that the state suspend rather than terminate these benefits.
  • Provide more holistic support for released offenders. In San Francisco, a program called Delancey Street provides housing, on-the-job training and other services to help ex-inmates integrate into the community. Advocates say such a program would ease the reentry transition for offenders in multiple areas, including mental health and substance abuse treatment.