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Iowa Prisons Chief Pushes for Mental Health Alternatives

| February 23, 2011

According to the Des Moines Register, the lack of available mental health services in Iowa communities has led to a rise in civil commitments to the prison system. John Baldwin, director of Iowa’s prisons, said that around 30-35% of Iowa inmates have mental illnesses, and he encouraged the legislature to fund alternatives, such as “sub-acute” facilities, that would decrease the financial burden on the prison system. To address the problem, Iowa legislators have proposed restructuring the state’s mental health system entirely. The current Iowa system, according to this Associated Press report, creates one mental health care system in each county—meaning Iowa essentially has 99 separate mental health care systems. The combination of capped property tax revenues and a tight state budget has left those systems underfunded. As a result, Republican legislators have proposed shifting responsibility from the counties to the state—a shift that could reduce county property taxes by up to $66 million. Director Baldwin’s proposals emphasize efficiency, as Iowa looks to lower prison costs while improving the quality of their mental health services.

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