Tackling Mental Health Issues | News Sun
LAGRANGE — Every year, thousands of people are locked up in local county jails where experts say they don’t belong.
These prisoners should instead be in a qualified mental health care facility, where they can get the treatment they need.
A shortage of beds at these facilities leaves local law enforcement with the burden of trying to care for individuals – mostly after committing minor offenses – after they are incarcerated.
LaGrange County Sheriff and Indiana Sheriffs Association President Jeff Campos said county jails and local law enforcement officers lack the expertise to properly care for These persons.
Campos, now in the final year of his second term as LaGrange County sheriff, has been busy this year talking to lawmakers in Indianapolis and Washington DC about the number of mentally ill inmates sitting in jails across the country. ‘Indiana where they don’t get the care they demand.
It’s a problem that dates back decades, he said, beginning when state and federal authorities began shutting down mental health facilities in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“They basically shut down all the mental health facilities and put these people on the streets. Now it seems our job is to take care of them,” Campos said. “The state must finally fix this problem.”
The National Institute of Corrections, a division of the federal Department of Justice, estimates that about 15% of all county jail inmates suffer from serious mental health issues. It also suggests the problem is worse in state prisons, where an estimated 20% of the population suffers from various forms of mental health issues.
The numbers come as no surprise to Campos, who spent the last 16 years of his career working in the administration of the Lagrange County Sheriff’s Office.
“We have people in our jail who just don’t belong here,” he said.
Campos knows these people did indeed commit a crime, but he said a county jail was not the right place for them to end up.
“A lot of times, because of their mental state, they have no idea they’ve done anything wrong,” he explained. “They don’t need to be incarcerated. They need skilled mental health help. But the staff in my prison is not trained to deal with the mentally ill.
He offers a case to illustrate his point.
Several years ago, Campos said, a man with a developmental disability was arrested on felony battery charges after he got involved in an altercation where he bit the other person. But the sheriff said the man had the mental capacity of a young child. With no other option, the individual was placed in jail pending trial. Campos said his jailers were never trained to support him.
“He didn’t need to come here, he needed to go somewhere where he could be taken care of,” he said.
Campos said prison staff quickly discovered that the individual was unable to properly care for himself in this environment. This forced jailers and medical staff in the prison to act as her caregivers.
“We basically had to become a daycare so we could take care of him,” the sheriff said.
Campos said his staff provided the individual with coloring books and other activities. In the meantime, his staff have been working with the court and the prosecutor’s office to try to find the detainee a better place to care for him. Because he was labeled as violent, it took time. LaGrange County was eventually able to find a mental health facility that agreed to step in and take over his care, once the individual was fully assessed, again adding to his time behind bars. .
When an inmate has mental health issues, it means that jailers and medical staff have to take time off from their other duties to care for those people.
Campos said that forces prison staff like his to rely on local mental health professionals, but those resources are limited. Often inmates only see a mental health professional once a week. Campos added that these professionals do their best to help educate prison staff on best practices, but it’s not the same type of care that a licensed mental health facility would provide these same people.
The state lacks health care facilities, Campos said, facilities that can provide the proper long-term care and treatment that many people with mental illness need. The problem was compounded when the state ordered counties to house inmates convicted of Level 6 felonies, the lowest level of felonies, rather than send them to a State Department correctional facility.
Campos said his appeal to state lawmakers was simple.
“We need your help to find a solution.”
Chronic overcrowding in jails and prisons only compounds the problem. Hoping to reduce prison overcrowding in Indiana, the state has ordered the courts to sentence anyone convicted of a Level 6 felony to serve time in a county jail. Campos said many crimes committed by the mentally ill, such as assault and battery, fall into this category of crime, which means they must serve their sentences in local facilities with few professional resources.
As ISA president, Campos said the association has worked hard for the past two years to change Indiana law and get mentally ill inmates out of county jails, but the process has been stalled. slow.
An ISA ally is State Representative Greg Steuerwald (R-Danville) who recently helped pass a bill giving the courts more leeway to treat patients with mental illnesses. This law comes into force on July 1 and allows some of these inmates to avoid prison and instead be housed in mental health facilities.
Steuerwald called it a good first step, but said more work is still needed. He worked with local law enforcement officials in 2019, traveling the state and holding hearings on prison overcrowding. He said the incarceration of the mentally ill is just one part of the problem of overcrowding in state jails and prisons.
Steuerwald continues to seek a solution to the problem of incarcerating the mentally ill and said he and others are currently working on a bill they hope to introduce in the House in January. This bill would help create more mental health services in the state, help hire more mental health professionals and, in turn, help remove inmates with mental illness from county jails and place them in public or private mental health facilities instead.
“The bill will be a major political shift,” Steuerwald said.
His bill includes an enabling provision that would hopefully help shorten the time it takes to determine who needs specialist care.
“We need this enabling legislation so the courts can turn these people away from jail. Second, we need professionals to do the assessments and recommendations to the courts, and third, we need to find them a placement. Those are the three aspects of the bill,” he said.
The problem remains that there is still a shortage of qualified long-term mental health facilities in the state.
Campos said he would like to see state legislators dedicate some state resources to building a new regional network of mental health facilities. These centers could be located in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Evansville and South Bend and serve surrounding counties.
It is an idea that has the support of Steuerwald.
Steuerwald said he has considered proposals to create regional mental health facility partnerships between the state and counties, as well as state partnerships with private facilities. But he prefers the first option
“A partnership with counties and the state makes sense to me,” he said.
Campos and the ISA are discussing proposals to build and then staff special modules in county jails that would only be used to house and care for mentally ill inmates. Campos understands that this too would be costly and beyond the financial means of the local government.
“The state will have to fund this,” Campos added.
In the meantime, Campos said the ISA continues to study the problem and seek long-term solutions. The ISA recently applied for a community catalyst grant from the Family and Social Services Administration and the Mental Health and Addictions Division. If granted, the ISA would use these funds to partner with a Chicago firm and study long-term solutions to the problem.
“It’s not a correctional problem. It’s a mental health issue and he needs a mental health solution,” Campos explained.