By Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Rocket-Courier)
The agendas for both the meeting of the Bradford County Commissioners and the Bradford County Prison Board may have appeared light on May 10, but the first item under “new business” addressed by the commissioners was a very heavy topic. In an effort to reduce the number of people with mental illness in the county’s correctional facility, the commissioners unanimously approved a proclamation for joining the Stepping Up Initiative and marking May 16 as a Stepping Up Day of Action.
Commissioner Daryl Miller read the proclamation, which outlined the county’s commitment to increasing awareness of creating a data-driven policy to achieve its goals.
“County correction facilities are the largest treaters of mental illness,” Miller remarked, “even more so than hospitals.”
Stepping Up is a national initiative sponsored by the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Foundation and other agencies to address an epidemic of two million people with serious mental illnesses incarcerated each year across the country, nearly seventy five percent of whom also suffer from substance abuse disorders. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, these inmates tend to stay in the system longer or return to jail more quickly when released.
In the meantime, the hiring of seven new part time corrections officers was approved by the commissioners. Prison population stood at 178 on May 9, according to Warden Don Stewart’s report distributed at the Prison Board Meeting. That includes 30 females. There were eight new placements to the supervised bail program, bringing the current total to 80.
Extraordinary occurrences last month included a female inmate placed on constant watch after stabbing herself in the forehead with a pen, two related male prisoners charged with assault after attacking another male, and a fight between two male inmates with new charges pending.
Four inmates have been fortunate enough to get outside the facility as part of the Community Workforce Program. Several of them assisted with the moving of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region offices to the former Keystone College building in Towanda, and two to four inmates have been requested by Athens Township to get the park ready for summer.