Quarter of Mich. prisoners need mental health care
LANSING, August 21, 2011 (AP): About a quarter of Michigan's 43,000 state prisoners are mentally ill, and new Michigan Corrections Director Dan Heyns says he wants to shift responsibility for their treatment from his department to other agencies.
``Corrections has had a kind of mission creep over the years,'' Heyns told The Detroit News for a story published online Sunday (http://j.mp/qC9Gbh ). ``We're doing mental health stuff, we're educators and job trainers, you name it.
``We need to bring the Michigan Corrections Department back to its original mission, which is corrections.''
Heyns, a former Jackson County sheriff, took over the state's prison system in June.
He and corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said the department would like to get away from responsibility for providing mental health treatment, education, job training, housing and transportation for parolees.
Mental health has become a particular burden, Heyns said.
``I've got institutions that are just packed with people who are very, very seriously mentally ill,'' he said. ``These aren't stress cases. I can't exactly provide a therapeutic environment. We're struggling with that.''
Heyns said he doesn't expect he can hand off the mentally ill prisoners he has now, but he wants to work with sheriffs, prosecutors and other local officials to try to ensure fewer mentally ill people come to prison.
Heyns said he understands such a change would be hard, given factors such as the closure of mental health hospitals in the 1990s. Like him, local mental health officials are ``under the gun to reduce costs,'' Heyns said.
Michael Vizena, executive director of the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards, said the state's 46 boards have programs to identify the seriously mentally ill and ``work with the local judicial systems to develop treatment plans to divert these persons from incarceration if appropriate.''
``Resources are always a challenge,'' especially for those who do not have Medicaid, he said. Vizena said his members would like to work with Heyns and others at the state level to make improvements.
As sheriff, Heyns said he worked with the local community college to provide educational services and he might be able to use a similar model in his new job.
Information from: The Detroit News, http://detnews.com/