An excellent article from last week’s Ithaca Journal highlighting the
significance of incorporating WRAP in the Tompkins County Jail. At MHANYS,
we have long been advocates of supporting enhanced behavioral health
services in correctional facilities. Innovative programing like WRAP will
help to create a greater understanding of mental health issues and help to
enhance plans of care upon release.

We are pleased to see this practice being incorporated in Tompkins County
and for the leadership role the MHA of Tompkins is playing in providing
WRAP. MHANYS Director of Family Wellness and Suicide Prevention
Initiatives, Deborah Faust trained the MHA Tompkins Staff on WRAP. WRAP is
an integral part of MHANYS Care Paths Family Engagement program.

If you would like to know more about WRAP training or Care Paths, you can
contact Deb Faust at dfaust@mhanys.org

Jail Takes Steps To Improve Mental Health Care
By Jaime Cone southreporter@flcn.org Ithaca Times | 0 comments

The lack of mental health services at the Tompkins County Jail has been an
ongoing issue for years, draining the jail’s resources while leaving
inmates with an extremely limited level of care, but now for the first time
steps are being taken to implement mental health programs within the jail.

“It shouldn’t be shock that the state has been closing mental health
facilities and what happens is those people with mental illness have
nowhere to get treatment and end up in jail,” Captain Ray Bunce, the jail’s
head administrator, said in an interview last week. He had said as much to
concerned county residents at a family forum hosted by the County Mental
Health Department last winter, and through that conversation he connected
with the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County.

The local nonprofit (which is not affiliated with the County Mental Health
Department) now facilitates two new weekly group sessions at the Tompkins
County Jail called WRAP and Talk. About three to four men and the same
number of women meet separately in back-to-back sessions, which is the
ideal number of participants, said Parker Carver, though he would like to
see the frequency of the classes increase.

The sessions are not technically “group therapy,” as they are not led by
licensed therapists but by Mental Health Association employees who have
undergone an intensive one-week training.

WRAP, which stands for Wellness Recovery Action Plan, is an evidence-based
program that teaches coping mechanisms and strategies for handling
emotions. “We talk about our triggers — things that upset us and make it
harder to control our emotions,” said Parker Carver.

WRAP was first developed in 1997 and is used internationally as a
prevention and wellness process implemented not just in jails but in a
variety of settings. According to Parker Carver it has been in use in the
behavioral unit of Cayuga Medical Center for two years.

The WRAP website notes that jails around the country have begun using the
techniques. Maguire Men’s Correctional Facility in Redwood City, CA,
tracked the recidivism rates of its offenders and found that six out of
seven participants that attended WRAP workshops have not reoffended in the
last three years.

To accompany WRAP, which is designed to help those with mental illness,
Parker Carver adapted the methods and created the less structured Talk,
which is geared toward inmates who do not necessarily identify as having a
diagnosed mental health issue.

Ideally, the skills taught in the program will translate to the inmate’s
lives outside the jail and reduce the likelihood of their return. “If we
can show them how to process anger and frustration through healthier
outlets before they lean on negative coping mechanisms then we’ve done our
job,” Parker Carver said.

The Mental Health Association has been asking inmates for feedback, and so
far the majority have said they feel like they are benefiting from the
sessions. “We ask for on a numeric scale, one to 100 how much they
benefited from it, and then ask what they appreciated and what they would
change,” explained Parker Carver, “and the feedback we get is
overwhelmingly positive with high numbers and a lot of appreciation of us
being there ready to listen.”

The classes fill up rapidly. “I would love to see more sessions,” said
Parker Carver. Bunce said ideally he would like to see more as well, but in
the overcrowded jail it’s already a challenge trying to shuffle around
appointments with attorneys and other meetings so that the conference room
can be available two afternoons every week. “I can tell you, we already
have demand for all the space we have,” he said.

While Bunce is appreciative of the services the Mental Health Association
is offering, he said there’s a great need for more trained psychiatric
care. Rachel Webb, a mental health social worker, is assigned to work in
the jail six hours per week, but Bunce would like to see someone in that
position full-time. This is not unheard of or even uncommon, he said;
Cortland County Jail, for example, currently has a 40-hour-per-week mental
health professional on staff.

Webb does not prescribe medication, but if she thinks there is inmate who
needs a prescription she will consult a psychiatrist at the County Mental
Health Department who will then consult with a doctor contracted to work in
the jail six hours per week (who is also on call in the case of emergency).
If they concur on a course of treatment then the appropriate drug is
prescribed.

There is one registered nurse, Evelyn, who works 40 hours per week and
preferred not to give her last name. “This is obviously a population with
significant mental health needs,” Evelyn said. “There is very high
percentage of people with mental illnesses here, and I don’t feel like with
the lack of counseling services and therapy services that we are addressing
their needs as well as we could be.”

Bunce continues to look for opportunities to improve mental health care at
the jail. Recently he sent three sergeants, three officers and Evelyn, the
nurse, to two days of training called “Mental Health First Aid,” held at
the Mental Health Association in Ithaca.

“The department saw this opportunity to go to this and expand our
knowledge, so I jumped on that opportunity,” said Tompkins County Sargent
Matthew DeMatteo.

“There’s much less anxiety among the inmates when they get to talk to
someone who is actually emphasizing with their problems,” DeMatteo said.
“Starting them earlier is beneficial because they’re not walking out the
door not knowing what to do. They’re starting the process in jail, so
they’ve built those avenues and know that they can pursue other resources.”

Parker Carver said inmates have already shared with him the impact the
program has had over the last two month. One man in his early 20’s had a
complicated home life and has been in the system in one way or another
since he was 14, spending only one year total on the outside. He has a
young son, and he said that through the conversations he’s had with the
group he’s come to realize how much of an effect his absent father had on
him.

“It led in part to the path he chose,” Parker Carver said. “His father was
also in jail or prison as long as he can remember, and it mattered to him
that he break that cycle. He cried telling me how he wanted to be there for
his son and wanted him to see his father in something other than an orange
jumpsuit.”

Glenn Liebman, CEO

Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.

194 Washington Avenue Suite 415

Albany, NY 12210

gliebman@mhanys.org

(518)434-0439 x 220

Follow us online: www.MHANYS.org

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