Penn Research Project Targets Treatment of Mental Illness in Prisons

Penn Research Project Targets Treatment of Mental Illness in Prisons

Bioethicist Dominic Sisti Cites 'Shadow Behavioral Health Care System' Behind Bars

A pilot research project focused on the treatment of mental illness in prisons and funded by the University of Pennsylvania's Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI) is the subject of a lengthy article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The research team -- the Ethics of Correctional Psychiatry Work Group -- is headquartered in the Perelman School of Medicine's Scattergood Ethics Program and headed up by Perelman's Dominic Sisti.


Dominic Sisti, PhD, is the Director of Penn's Scattergood Program for Applied Ethics of Behavioral Health Care and an LDI Senior Fellow.

Sisti, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, an LDI Senior Fellow, and Director of the Scattergood Program for Applied Ethics of Behavioral Health Care.

Psychiatric needs in prisons
The Inquirer article by freelance writer Courtenay Harris Bond focused on the lack of effective psychiatric treatment in prisons or treatment supports available once a mentally ill prison is released back into society.

"We have a shadow behavioral health care system inside jails and prisons," Sisti told the Inquirer. "The field of bioethics has an obligation to attend to unique issues in correctional settings."

The research team estimated that 50% of all the people currently incarcerated in the U.S. have some form of mental illness at the same time prisons and jails holding them lack the resources and even the mandate to treat them.

From arrest to release
The Inquirer report indicated the goal of the research team -- that has just been joined by former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey -- is to analyze the ethics and policy issues involved in dealing with mental ill individuals from the time of their arrest to the time of their release.

"Through conceptual and empirical work," Sisti said in the Inquirer interview, "we hope to bring a renewed and necessary focus on the ethics of treating mentally ill individuals in correctional settings."

LDI Senior Fellow Chris Feudtner, MD, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Perelman, is also a member of the ten-person research team.