FAIRFIELD — People with mental illness do not commit crimes at a higher rate than the general population, research shows, but when they do break the law, they are returned to prison at a much higher rate. An Iowa program has been helping these offenders stay out of trouble and change their lives.
The Mental Health Supervision Program within the Eighth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services accepts non-violent offenders with mental illnesses after they've been through the trial process and faced their consequences. When they are placed on probation or let out of prison on parole, participants who meet the criteria get a much more in-depth experience than the general offender.
Parole officers may have so many cases, only the ones having big problems get any attention. For others, an officer may ask questions, put a checkmark next to the answer and move on to the next case. This program is different.
"My [clients] learn we're going to have a long conversation," said Kurt Rosenberg, a probation parole officer with the Eighth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services. "I see each client once a week at least."
If the concentrated caseload of "just" 25 offenders was added to a PO's duties, those 25 would end up occupying that officer's entire day, he said.
After a while, Rosenberg can tell if clients are doing the things they need to do and help turn those things into good habits. For example, doctors say some patients with mental health issues do not regularly take their prescribed medication. Rosenberg can often tell if that is the situation, at which point he will encourage them to do so and explain the benefits of doing so. He has the time to spend on just two dozen cases.
"That's why this is a long-term program, dealing with long-term problems," said Judge Kirk Daily of the Eighth Judicial District. "These offenders wouldn't make it through [regular] probation."