Main findings of Individuals with Serious Mental Illnesses in County Jails: A Survey of Jail Staff’s Perspectives, a report by Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and The Treatment Advocacy Center:
Overall, the vast majority (95.7%) of the jails reported having some inmates with serious mental illnesses from September 1, 2010, to August 31, 2011. While 49 (21.3%) of all jails reported that 16% or more of their inmate population were seriously mentally ill, more large jails reported having such large proportions of these inmates. Specifically, 31.3% of large, 13.2% of medium and only 4.2% of small jails reported that 16% or more of their inmates were seriously mentally ill.
Per our adopted definition of a large seriously mentally ill inmate population (where seriously mentally ill inmates made up 6% or more of the population), more than a third (40.4%) of the jails reported having a large seriously mentally ill population. In contrast, more than half (58.3%) of the jails reported having a small seriously mentally ill population (i.e., seriously mentally ill inmates made up 5% or fewer of the population).
Three-quarters of the jails reported seeing more or far more numbers of seriously mentally ill inmates, compared to five to 10 years ago.
A third of the jails described the recidivism rate for these inmates as higher or much higher than that of the general inmate population.
Segregation of inmates with serious mental illnesses was reported in 68.7% of the jails. It was more commonly reported in jails with smaller percentages of inmates who were seriously mentally ill.
Most jails reported major problems with the seriously mentally ill inmates, including the necessity of watching them more closely for suicide, their need for additional attention, their disruption of normal jail activities, and their being abusive of, or abused by, other inmates.
Caring for the seriously mentally ill in county jails was particularly challenging for law enforcement staff, who have limited training in dealing with these inmates. Almost half of the jails reported that only 2% or less of the initial training they provide to their staff and sheriff’s deputies was allotted to issues specifically dealing with seriously mentally ill inmates, and 60.4% reported that only two hours or less of annual training were allotted to such issues. (Public Citizen and Treatment Advocacy Center County Jail Survey iii )
Despite the limited training, about a third of the jails reported that 11% or more of their staff and sheriff’s deputies’ time involved handling seriously mentally ill inmates.
Forty percent of the jails reported that 6% or more of their sheriffs deputies’ time involved transporting seriously mentally ill inmates to medical treatment and mental health appointments outside the jail facility.
About half (54.4%) of the jails had implemented housing or staffing changes to accommodate the seriously mentally ill inmates. Specifically, 33.9% reported sending mentally ill offenders to facilities other than jail; 27.8% had implemented inmate housing-facility changes (such as increasing the number of beds reserved for people with mental illness); 27.4% reported hiring full- or part-time non-law-enforcement staff members (including nurses, social workers, and psychiatrists); and only 3.5% reported hiring deputies with experience in dealing with seriously mentally ill people.
Resource and funding limitations were cited by numerous jails as major factors constraining their ability to offer mental health treatment and medications for seriously mentally ill inmates. Yet 45.2% of the jails reported offering some sort of mental health treatment for seriously mentally ill inmates inside the jail facilities. 35.7% of the jails reported providing individual psychiatric care, and 9.6% reported providing group psychotherapy. Even though medications are central to stabilizing people with serious mental illnesses, only 41.7% of the jails reported offering pharmacy services.
Less than a quarter of these jails offered a support system for mentally ill persons following release.
Read the complete report here.