CONTACT: BECKY SOGLIN
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 384-4638
Release: Nov. 18, 2002
Iowa Consortium for Mental Health promotes ways to help mentally ill offenders
In the past decade, Iowa, like most states, has experienced a dramatic increase
in the number of prison inmates with mental health problems. In response,
University of Iowa Health Care experts recently organized educational programming
to help professionals in mental health, corrections and related agencies better
understand and serve people with mental illness who already are in or at risk
of entering the correctional system.
Between July and September, the Iowa Consortium for Mental Health, housed
at the University of Iowa, offered a series of regional meetings and a series
of Iowa Communications Network (ICN) talks related to mentally ill or substance-abusing
offenders. Attendance for the six-part ICN programming far exceeded expectations,
with more than 900 individuals attending one or more sessions at 63 sites
across the state.
The programming was funded by a grant from the Iowa Department of Human Services
(DHS), and major partners included the Iowa Department of Corrections, the
Iowa State Association of Counties, the Iowa Department of Public Health and
the Community Corrections Improvement Association.
"There is increasing awareness about the interface of mental health
issues and corrections issues because of the concern that the criminal justice
system has become a de facto mental health system," said Michael Flaum,
M.D., UI associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Iowa Consortium
for Mental Health. "We have known for a while that many seriously mentally
ill people end up in prison, so our project was one response to this problem."
The first part of the project focused on communication and coordination between
the different agencies that deal with the mentally ill who commit or who are
at risk of committing crimes. These meetings were held at six locations around
the state in June and July, each averaging about 80 attendees. Three of the
meetings were held in prisons.
"Those meetings were meant to bring corrections folks into the same
room as the mental health and substance abuse/drug rehabilitation community
experts to get them talking to one another," Flaum said. "If you
work in a prison and have an inmate coming up for a discharge, being able
to successfully help transition that person back into the community depends
on the degree to which you understand what area mental health services are
available and how they can be accessed.
"Similarly, individuals who work in community mental health often have
no idea of the limitations and parameters that are inherently part of the
corrections system. For most of them, it was the first time actually setting
foot in a prison. So our goal was to get these groups of people who take care
of this overlapping clientele to work together," he added.
In addition, at each meeting, attendees heard personal testimony from individuals
with mental illness who have been in the corrections system and benefited
from innovative programs sponsored by the DHS to improve transition from prison
back to the community.
The second component of the project consisted of the ICN program series to
help people who interface with mentally ill offenders understand some of the
most common mental health disorders. "From Streets to Cells and Back
Again" covered psychotic disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, borderline
personality disorder, substance abuse as it relates to mental illness, antisocial
personality disorder and assertive community treatment.
Flaum said the organizers had anticipated educating up to 200 people at 15
sites statewide. However, as word of the continuing education opportunity
spread, the UI Telemedicine Resource Center expanded it to 63 sites. Ultimately,
916 individuals registered, representing institutional corrections (prison
administration and staff), community corrections (parole and probation officers)
and, primarily, community mental health providers such a physicians, nurses,
social workers, psychologists and counselors.
"As registrations came in we took note where people were from to make
sure we had enough sites so that they wouldn't have to travel too far,"
said Susan Zollo, program coordinator for the continuing medical education
division in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. "This
ICN program included more sites than we had ever done and was broader in scope
in that participants were not only nurses and physicians but also included
a significant number of community mental health professionals and counselors."
"The hunger for this information was remarkable," Flaum said. "We
were convinced by this response that more of this type of programming is needed."
PowerPoint presentations from the six ICN sessions are available online by
clicking on "events" at www.ICMentalHealth.org/.
The Iowa Consortium for Mental Health is part of the UI department of psychiatry.
Brenda Hollingsworth, consortium administrator, also helped organize the educational
University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the
UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics
and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services
they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at www.uihealthcare.com.