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County jail mental health program has immediate success

The Herald - 2/9/2018

Feb. 09--MERCER -- Of the first 12 participants in Mercer County's initiative to provide mental health treatment for inmates at the county jail, only one has returned to jail.

The remaining 11 clients are continuing the treatment they began in jail and have found homes. Two are holding jobs.

Mercer County Commissioner Scott Boyd said Thursday that the early outcomes from the mental health initiative, which began in November of 2016, are encouraging. The commissioners approved a proclamation to honor the county's Criminal Justice Advisory Board, following a measure in December to participate in the national "Stepping Up" effort.

Stepping Up is part of an initiative to provide mental health treatment in prisons, with more than 350 counties, including Mercer, across the United States participating. However, Boyd said the program is sufficiently flexible to serve individual communities.

"We were able to figure out exactly what our needs are," he said.

Based on that examination of Mercer County's needs, the advisory board is also focusing on opioid addiction and crisis intervention training among law enforcement. Fifteen police officers in the county have already received training for assisting people with mental health issues.

Mark Benedetto, Mercer County chief juvenile probation officer and chairman of the Criminal Justice Advisory Board, said the county will provide training to additional officers in 2018.

The commissioners presented the proclamation to Benedetto, advisory board coordinator Laura Leskovac and Daniel Pustinger of the state Board of Probation and Parole.

Benedetto said the county commitment approved in December will give the county advisory board the opportunity to pursue grants. The board is in the process of establishing a comprehensive plan to expand on mental health successes by treating addiction and crisis intervention training.

"I appreciate that we're working on treatment," Benedetto said.

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