The Alabama approach to mental health clinics: Jail
To be honest, the Alabama “solution” of simply putting the mentally ill in jail (as though mental illness were a crime, though didn’t Samuel Butler make illness in general a crime in Erewhon?) is not all that different across the US. John Sharp reports at Al.com:
Ferma Jackson oversees dozens of inmates with mental health concerns.
His work space is a large semi-circular area called a “pod.” Within the pod are smaller “wedges” including one wedge that consists of eight cells housing inmates with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Each of these inmates has specific medical requirements that take up a large portion of the day for correctional officers.
“After a while, you see the same people come in,” said Jackson, who has been employed as a county corrections officer for four years. “You get to know them and they get to know you.”
He added, “If they had a place to actually go and get some help, that would be the best way to go.”
But finding alternative housing is a problem for sheriffs throughout Alabama.
A months-long AL.com probe has found frustrated local law enforcement and corrections officials across the state reeling from cuts in mental health funding. The results: more corrections officers being attacked; more psychotropic drugs being issued;and fewer hospital beds for the severely mentally ill.
Faced with a growing problem, the Sheriff’s Department in Mobile County is now looking to expand its jail to handle inmates with mental illness.
The proposed jail expansion would be the first at the 32-year-old facility since the mid-1990s. It also comes four years after the state shuttered most of its psychiatric wards.
And while Mobile County’s overall jail population is trending downward since 2010, the number of inmates prescribed “psychotropic” medication remains steady, if not rising – about 14 percent of the jail’s inmates.
To Sheriff Sam Cochran and Trey Oliver, the jail’s warden, mental health issues are not only creating extra expenses. They are also creating safety concerns.
Oliver said the number of corrections officers assaulted last year was nearly “double the norms.”
Mobile County is better equipped than most in Alabama to tackle the complex needs for inmates with mental illness. According to an AL.com analysis, 70 percent of 40 sheriff departments responding to a survey indicated they were holding someone in need of mental health services. Of those 40 counties, 65 percent said they had trouble finding services for at least one inmate with mental health problems. . .