Shocking Stats From Erie County Prison - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather, Events

Shocking Stats From Erie County Prison

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Inside the walls of the Erie County Prison are inmates with serious mental illnesses. Their numbers are growing. Currently, of 640 total inmates, 44% of them have a serious mental illness.

"Somebody who might have schizophrenia. Somebody who may have a serious depressive disorder. These are lifetime kind of things that people would be dealing with. It wouldn't be somebody who is having an anxiety disorder or something like that," said John DiMattio, Executive Director of the Erie County Office of Drug & Alcohol Abuse

"They have, not only a diagnosis of serious mental illness, but 85% of them also have some kind of drug or alcohol abuse problem. They wind up in the criminal justice system and they wallow in there for long periods of time," added Jim Veshecco, Warden, Erie County Prison.

It's a serious problem. So administrators and staff from local mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice agencies gathered together to find ways to keep the mentally ill from ending up in prison.

"Because there are less state hospital beds available, there aren't really the forensic placements that were there before across the state. There's only a couple hundred available where there were probably a thousand a few years back," says DiMattio.

Some mentally ill people end up on the streets. They self-medicate themselves with illegal drugs, and eventually find themselves in jail.

"So we're taking a look at that and we're working with local law enforcement and the Corrections Department to talk about what we can do differently to keep these people out of the prisons," DiMattio said.

While government officials at the local level are trying to deal with the problem, they are seeing some resistance. The latest state budget included a 10% cut in Social Services funding.

The experts agreed that it takes a lot less money to treat the mentally ill, than it takes to incarcerate them.

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