Working Toward Breakthrough in Mental Health Jail Services
This article in the New York Times recently caught my attention because it identifies the need to bolster community level mental health services to reduce the number of mentally ill people being sent to jail. County Jails are often the final safety net in the web of mental health services in a community. In some instances they may be the only net.
Statistics indicate that up to 60% of all inmates in jail have some form of mental illness. Unfortunately most jails have limited resources to properly treat these individuals. Even if a detention facility had the needed resources, the average length of stay for an inmate is 10-20 days, with most incarcerated three days or less – hardly enough time to develop and implement an effective course of treatment or intervention. As a result, most agencies simply focus on re-engaging and connecting inmates with available community services and trust that the individuals will find the help they need.
So what can a community do? There is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer. Opinions and policies vary state-to-state and county-to-county. A short-list of options includes:
- Identify or establish a network of services that can be easily shared within agencies, non-profits organizations, homeless programs and other community sources to actively connect mentally ill individuals within that support system.
- If jail staff members identify mental health issues in an inmate, bring the network to the inmate and get him or her connected with services while incarcerated along with a plan to continue treatment when released.
- Create a mental health housing pod in the jail that is managed to support inmates’ connections with community services.
- Create specialized mental health courts (much like drug courts) where, under court supervision, offenders are connected with the appropriate services to get treatment for the underlying causes of their criminalistics behavior.
- Urge policy changes that allow inmates to retain their Medicaid coverage while incarcerated to keep them linked with their support services.
- Develop early intervention and intensified educational services and information for at-risk individuals before, during and after incarceration to reduce high rates of recidivism.
Link crises intervention programs with all newly released inmates and their family members.
More and more we see the need for increased program spaces for education within detention centers as well as separate housing pods and bunking options in jails to best serve and rehabilitate this population. Additional space for more thorough assessment of inmates during in-take is another trend. Many counties and cities are reconsidering their policies on use of solitary confinement realizing the ineffective and often abusive treatment of those who are mentally ill.
Bottom line, it will take a vast combination of services, solutions and collaboration to truly bring about breakthrough in solving the mental health dilemma that most communities face.
Do you know what mental health services your community provides and how those services are delivered to those in need? The more pro-active we are in understanding this aspect of justice, the better opportunity we have to elevate the human experience of every community.