The Need

From 2000 to 2012, Pennsylvania’s prison population grew by 39%. The state’s overall population only increased by 1%.

A 2013 Pennsylvania State Prison study found that 6 of 10 inmates paroled from Pennsylvania prisons were arrested again within 3 years.

A 2011 survey showed that just 3 out of 35 responding state corrections departments offer “incentives for positive contract performance” in any of their contracts.

The Solution

In 2013, Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to develop and implement evidence-based performance measures for contractors providing mental health services to corrections facilities.

IRETA offered technical assistance during the process of developing the performance measures.

The Results

In December 2013, the PA DOC awarded a $91 million, five-year contract to MHM Services to provide psychiatric services to inmates in Pennsylvania correctional facilities.

As part of the new contract, MHM Services is required to meet certain incremental standards, including reducing the number of misconducts for mentally ill offenders, reducing the number of inmates recommitted to prison mental health units, and lowering the number of recommitments to prison residential treatment units.

There is incentive to meet these standards in the form of monetary reward. Failure to meet the standards incurs monetary penalties.

The PA DOC will monitor costs and recidivism rates in the upcoming years to evaluate the effectiveness of performance-based contracting for prison mental health services.


Pennsylvania is now a national leader in its use of an innovative strategy to improve prison mental health care and reduce recidivism.

IRETA has worked on several additional consulting projects to improve behavioral healthcare in the criminal justice system. Our work with US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania resulted in a quality improvement program for participants in a reentry court.

An evaluation that IRETA conducted of Renewal Treatment, Inc. addressed recidivism and the merits of addiction treatment integrated into the criminal justice system.