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Allegheny County awarded “Oscar” as it breaks the cycle of repeated incarceration for persons with behavioral health concerns

The content below may contain dated material as it was prepared for the media in advance of Pittsburgh’s hosting of the G20 in March 2010.  

Facing increasing incarceration rates and corresponding prison costs, Allegheny County public officials and key stakeholders recognized early on that they needed to address the related challenges of meeting the public safety needs of the community while reducing associated costs. Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) found that the best way to address these significant community issues was to collaborate with other agencies and stakeholders to help former inmates reintegrate successfully, when possible, into their communities and break the cycle of repeated incarceration. The Allegheny County Jail Collaborative fulfils this role.

Since 1988, the DHS Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) in partnership with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, the Office of the Public Defender, the Office of the District Attorney, the Office of Probation and Parole, the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has worked to expand Justice-Related Services designed to keep people with a mental health diagnosis, those with substance use disorders and those with co-occurring disorders out of jail and in their communities.

On July 27, 2005, one of the programs, the Justice-Related State Support Services (JRSSS) (formerly known as the Allegheny County State Forensic Program) was announced as one of ten winners nationally of the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award through the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The $100,000 “Oscar of government” is administered in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government. JRSSS works with men and women with mental health diagnosis or co-occurring (MH and substance use disorders) diagnoses as they near completion of their incarceration in state prison. Through face-to-face advanced planning for reentry into their communities, JRSSS has successfully re-integrated hundreds of former inmates and boasts a recidivism rate far superior to that resulting from the traditional practice of releasing inmates with limited supports. In June 2009, DHS produced Justice-Related State Support Services: Manual for Replication to assist other jurisdictions to create a similar program in their community.
 
In 2006, by building on and supplementing existing justice-related programs, Allegheny County adopted the Sequential Intercept Model (Munetz and Griffin, 2006) as its guide to developing a comprehensive continuum of justice-related services and supports. Currently, behavioral health and justice-related services are available to divert people from incarceration – or to reduce the duration of incarceration – from the time of initial police response to the time that a person completes his or her maximum sentence in a state correctional institution. As one of the few municipalities nation-wide to have programs at each of the five “intercepts,” Allegheny County hosted a SIMS-centered conference Which Way Out? National Conference to De-criminalize Mental Illness in November 2007. 

Amy M. Kroll, Director of Justice Related Services (JRS) in the DHS Office of Behavioral Health (OBH), was honored on June 5 at the Staunton Farm Foundation annual meeting as the 2009 recipient of the Albert B. Craig Jr. Award.