BY AMY FAUTH
Bulletin Staff Writer
Inmates at the Westmoreland County Prison in need of mental health services will receive the help they need thanks to a pilot program that will provide peer, individual and group counseling services paid for by $194,000 in unused block grant funding.
With nearly 50 percent of the inmate population on some sort of psychiatric medication, Warden
John Walton told the prison board Monday that four mental health professionals are now working at the prison — one peer counselor, two with bachelor’s degree level training and one with a master’s degree.
“This is something that we’ve never been able to do,” said Walton. “It’s a big plus for our mental health population.”
Commissioner Ted Kopas expressed his support of the measure.
“This is significant (for our prison and our county). Some (people) need treatment, not simply punishment,” said Kopas. “They need this type of support while they serve out their sentences so that they will be productive members of society when they are released.”
According to Austin Breegle, administrator of behavioral health and developmental services, the department is partnering with Westmoreland Casemanagement & Supports Inc. to administer the program. He said that the counselor with the master’s degree will oversee the program and be responsible for assessments. The two counselors at the bachelor’s level will conduct group therapy sessions at the prison with the peer counselor helping inmates prepare for release and arrange mental health services once paroled.
He added that after communicating with his colleagues in other counties, he learned that Westmoreland County is the only prison to be offering a program like this. The program is funded for one year. After that, Breegle said he will meet with WCSI and deputy warden of treatment at the prison to assess the model and see what changes need to be made moving forward.
“It’s a win-win for us,” said Walton, who said that the counselors will work in tandem with mental health professionals and psychiatrists at the prison when offering inmates support.