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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

NorCo Gets $3 M to Help Inmates With Mental Illness

Laura Savenelli
Over the weekend, an inmate at Northampton County's jail named Donnell "Donnie" Davis suffered a cardiac event. He unfortunately passed away. Davis was serving time for acting as an escort to a drug sale. he had been in trouble before.  But Judge Leonard Zito recognized that Davis was suffering from mental illness when he sentenced him in late August. Judge Zito not only ordered a mental evaluation, but even went so far as to agree to Davis' release if that became the ultimate recommendation of Mental Health.

Since posting my story, I've heard from several people in the Easton community who knew and liked Davis. "Poor guy never knew better," said one. "He was a good guy," added another. 

Davis had been concerned that, upon his release, he'd have no place to go. But his story is by no means unusual. Laura Savenelli, Northampton County's re-entry coordinator, outlined the problem to Northampton County Council on Aug 20.

According to Savenelli, 4,200 people were in the jail during 2017. Of that number, 1,268 (30.2%) of them acknowledged that they suffer from mental illness. In the public at large, only 4% will admit to mental health issues.

This year, PrimeCare began doing its own assessment of the mental health of inmates during the second quarter. According to their records, 72% of them either are or were suffering from mental illness. A whopping 23% of them suffer from serious mental illness with current and acute symptoms.

Are we paying to house people who should have been placed at Allentown State Hospital, which closed its doors in 2010?

"The answer to this question is an emphatic yes," says Executive Lamont McClure. Brian Watson, a county Mental Health administrator, adds that "the elimination of State Hospital beds has created a difficult void for individuals in need of a higher level of care." He notes this trend on a state and national level as well.

In 2017, Northampton County joined 425 other counties nationwide in The Stepping Up Initiative, a national program designed to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses who are in jail. At this point, the county is screening and assessing 71% of the inmates.

Savenelli is about to get help. On Aug 21, the day after she addressed County Council, the state Human Services advised the County that it will be getting a little over $3 million to help inmates with mental illness. With this money, the County plans to develop an eight-bed residence for inmates with severe mental illness. No location has been identified, but Watson said he'd like it to be close to both the jail and courthouse. There will also be housing for inmates with less severe mental illness, and a re-entry program to help inmates secure housing. Finally, a Crisis Intervention Team Coordinator will reach out to police and first responders to avoid unnecessary arrests and increase safe interactions with people suffering from mental illness.


Anonymous said...

The jail is full of people who do not belong there but the county and courts continue to use the incarceration of individuals to pay for their own jailing. A cash cow that inmates never get out from under after their release. If the tax payers were on the hook for meals and other items...maybe the courts would think twice about throwing everyone who appears before them..in jail. Mental health a serious issue for a lot of people now residing at the county hotel as it is referred to by the inmates.Time to get progressive and less regressive.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Maybe you should think twice before spewing information that is simply untrue in NC. The courts here are very careful about who they send to jail. The inmates do not pay for their jailing. We do. The inmates do not pay for their meals. We do. the inmates do not pay for their medical care. We do.

The counties did not decide to close state hospitals. A "progressive" Governor did.

Also,the whole point of this story is that NCis trying very hard to address the problem of mentally ill people who commit crimes. Some do need to be jailed, obviously. But alternatives are being explored.

Anonymous said...

Bernie; i believe the prison keeps a book that charges inmates on record $20 a day, removes a percentage of money placed on an inmates' accounts by outside parties for commissary purchases for toiletries and snack items, collects obscene fees for inmate telephone contact with family, and uses the amounts owed to place a debt on an inmates credit record, helping to 'ding' that record and brand the released civilian a deadbeat. I recently found out that outside family must now purchase toiletries and snacks for inmates through an outside vendor, online, at obscene prices, and the county gets a kickback from the mandated by county outside contractor.

Anonymous said...

Once again Mr. O'Hare does not know what he is talking about. If he spoke to recently released prisoners..he would get their side of the story instead of his own side. Unreasonable debt is piled on top of court costs and it is burdensome and unrealistic to expect to collect these monies from people whose lives have been turned inside out and lost everything.

Anonymous said...

10:13..Bravo for telling the truth!

Anonymous said...

Amen and ditto to 8:03 a.m. comments and you Bernie for brining this to light. It's time for sweeping reforms and there are criminal lawyers who agree. Where do reforms start?

Anonymous said...

It's jail..who cares if their lives are miserable..even for the foreseeable future. Retribution and punishment goes on even after release. No wonder so many re-offend or give up entirely. Lock them up and destroy them and their families. Right?

Anonymous said...

10:13- Did you know the vendor only accepts Visa and Mastercard for purchase? This is because American Express and Discover refuses to give a kickback to the vendor and county.

Anonymous said...

10:13 is correct

Anonymous said...

Does anyone even realize the impact of the Allentown State hospital closing. It was s major blunder.