Fleck and Goodman Unveil Legislation to Prohibit the Privatization Of Mental Health Services at Pennsylvania State Prisons 6/5/2013
HARRISBURG – Citing a serious concern that communities and state prison employees would be at risk, state Reps. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon/Blair/Mifflin) and Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill) have sponsored legislation that would prohibit the privatization of mental health services at any Pennsylvania state correctional institution (SCI) or other state corrections facility. Fleck and Goodman were joined by other lawmakers, psychologists and union officials today at a Capitol news conference to discuss their bill.
“I have a hard time understanding why the Department of Corrections (DOC) would seek to disrupt a system of employee selection, training and implementation that functions so well,” said Fleck, who has two state prisons located in his district. “I can understand the need to spend tax dollars in the most frugal and efficient manner, but this is a core function of state government that should stay within the public realm.”
“I have two state prisons in my legislative district, SCI Frackville and SCI Mahanoy,” said Goodman. “The psychologists are an important part of the teams at both facilities that ensure employees’ and residents’ safety during and after an inmate’s incarceration. You simply cannot put a price on safety and security.”
Specifically, House Bill 1011 would block the use of Commonwealth funds appropriated to the DOC for the privatization or outsourcing of the psychological services within the state prison system. The measure currently has 27 co-sponsors and bipartisan support.
The decision to outsource mental health services would impact as many as 187 positions, including 159 licensed psychologists, licensed psychologist managers and psychological services specialists. About one in five state prison inmates require some sort of mental health monitoring or treatment.
“In addition to diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, psychologists in state prisons perform other very important duties, such as: evaluating prisoners for security risks, helping to manage prisoners while incarcerated, and assessing risk and monitoring needs at the time of parole. These services are essential to the safety of the prison and community and should not be delegated to the lowest bidder from the private sector,” said Bruce Mapes, Ph.D., Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA) president-elect. “PPA realizes we live in an era of fiscal austerity. But we also believe it would be irresponsible to save a little money now by knowingly creating a substantial increase in future costs to victims, municipalities and the state, as well as a reduction in community safety.”
“The jobs at stake are career positions with the Department of Corrections. Besides having to meet high standards of professional qualifications and training, the staff professionals in question have years of specialized experience,” said Kathy Jellison, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 668 president. “If an outside contractor is brought in, it will mean new personnel with a long learning curve. It’s not fair to the community; it’s not fair to the men and women who have devoted years to these jobs; it’s not fair to the inmates; and it’s not even fair to the new hires.”
A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Tim Solobay (D-46).
Last year, Fleck introduced legislation that would block the privatization or outsourcing of nursing services within the state prison system. The Corbett administration later decided to maintain the status quo.