Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Awards Mental Health Services Contract

Dec 23, 2013, 15:15 ET from Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

Contract Utilizes Performance-Based Incentives and Sanctions

HARRISBURG, Pa., Dec. 23, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- MHM Services has been selected to provide mental health services to inmates in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.  Under the $91 million, five-year contract, MHM will continue to deliver psychiatric services for DOC inmates.  Psychology services will be provided utilizing DOC staff; the same delivery method that was in place previously.

Under the direction of Gov. Corbett, the new contract, among the first of its kind in United States corrections, comes with performance-based incentives and penalties.

"No longer are we issuing contracts for just a service,'' Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said today. "From this point on, our contracts will focus on results.  The new contract includes performance measures that will ensure taxpayers are getting what they pay for, including inmates who leave our system better than when they entered it.''

The Virginia-based company held the previous contract, which expired on Nov. 30, 2013. MHM Services was selected again following the state's competitive procurement process. 

"The natural end of the previous contract presented the opportunity to update its language with performance-based measures,'' Wetzel said.

As part of this contract, MHM Services will receive financial incentives to:

  • Reduce the number of misconducts for mentally ill offenders;
  • Reduce the number of inmates recommitted to prison mental health units;
  • Lower the number of recommitments to prison residential treatment units.

MHM Services will also face sanctions for failure to achieve baseline results with regard to the areas identified above.  Additionally, MHM Services will be required to monitor and maintain or exceed an established baseline medication compliance rate. 

The Association of State Correctional Administrators in 2011 surveyed corrections departments about their use of performance incentives.  Out of 35 departments that responded to the survey, just three reported offering "incentives for positive contract performance" in any of their contracts.

"Performance-based contracting is an innovative and potentially powerful strategy to improve results in states and counties across the country," said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts, which helped develop the performance incentives.

"Private contractors provide a significant amount of the substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as other programs intended to reduce recidivism.

"By creating direct financial rewards for better outcomes, Pennsylvania is encouraging these providers to use evidence-based practices that will boost public safety and ultimately cut costs to taxpayers," Gelb said.

Twenty-one percent of Pennsylvania state prison inmates receive mental health services, which equates to more than 10,000 individuals.    

In addition to the performance-based measures contained in the new mental health services contract, the DOC has implemented other specific changes to the prison's mental health system over the past several years, including:

  • Provided Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to more than 300 employees who have day-to-day contact with inmates, with a goal of having all staff trained. Pennsylvania DOC officials have taken the CIT concept developed for police departments and incorporated it into a correctional setting. This 32-hour training helps staff to deescalate situations involving mentally ill offenders. The DOC also has offered this training to county prisons in Pennsylvania.
  • Trained approximately 260 inmates as certified peer specialists. Through specialized, certified training, these inmates will be qualified for certain civil service jobs once released from prison.
  • Officials are providing more out-of-cell structured programs and activities for mentally ill offenders who are housed in the system's secure residential treatment units.
  • The DOC is partnering with the VERA Institute of Justice to review how segregated housing is utilized throughout Pennsylvania's system. VERA and DOC officials will analyze the number of inmates in segregation in conjunction with DOC policies and practices to identify any potential enhancements that might benefit the system.

Officials also are continuing efforts to update the DOC's mental health policy bolstering the identification of seriously mentally ill inmates when they first enter the state prison system. Those inmates in need of services will be placed on a separate track and receive appropriate services throughout their incarceration.

"We are a big system, and we have to move deliberately as we make changes, in order for those changes to be safe and become part of the culture," Wetzel said.

Media contact: Susan McNaughton, 717-728-4025

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Corrections