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EDITORIAL: Jail isn’t right place for the mentally ill

Almost half of the 140 inmates in Warren County Jail have been prescribed psychotropic drugs, and more than half are receiving mental health treatment.

It would be as accurate to call the facility a mental health center as a jail, judging by its population. The problem is, the staffers are not trained for mental health work, and the mentally ill inmates are not receiving the treatment they need.

Neither the jail staff nor the inmates can be happy with the situation, and guards have made their dissatisfaction clear by leaving. Sheriff Bud York complained recently that he can’t hold onto jail guards because they don’t like the work.

York singled out for mention the one-on-one watches that guards must take on for inmates who are withdrawing from drugs or have mental or behavioral issues. State officials don’t want to lose inmates to suicide, necessitating the constant, close watches, but the duty is onerous and often requires staff overtime, York said. It is one reason so many guards go looking for other jobs.

The problems at Warren County Jail are one consequence of the lack of public mental health treatment — especially inpatient treatment — across the state. Most of the large state mental health treatment centers have been closed, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since investigations over the years exposed abuses at treatment centers.

But the response to the closing of large institutional centers has been inadequate. Some patients are in smaller residential settings and are better off there. But many are not being treated at all because of a lack of beds and a lack of resources.

As with just about anything in our country, families that have enough money can find excellent treatment, inpatient or outpatient.

But for those who lack the money and the insurance coverage, treatment is either inadequate or unavailable. The jails always have room, however — if the local jail is full, then room will be found elsewhere — for the folks who turn to illegal drugs and commit petty crimes.

The public pays one way or another. Either we pay for treatment of people who are mentally ill, or we pay to deal with the consequences of their crimes, and then we pay again to warehouse them in jails.

The current situation is the worst of all worlds: The mentally ill are not getting helped, but the public is paying to take care of them. We cannot expect jail terms to do anything but exacerbate the problems of the mentally ill, so we’re making their problems worse, and in the end, more expensive.

It costs almost $70,000 a year per inmate for people locked up in state prisons, and that is where too many of our mentally ill will land without treatment.

When it comes to mental illness, our public policy should mirror our education policy: The sooner we intervene to fix problems and address shortcomings, the more money we save in the long term.

The more we help kids with learning disabilities and behavioral problems, the more likely they are to stay in school and become productive, taxpaying citizens. The more we neglect them, the higher the cost becomes later, either to address problems that have gotten worse or deal with trouble they have gotten into as adults or support them because they aren’t able to support themselves.

It’s the same with mental illness. We can turn our heads, but the consequences of neglect can be severe, and the costs will continue to rise.

Published By: https://poststar.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-jail-isn-t-right-place-for-the-mentally-ill/article_71adf6c6-d86b-5e18-a733-22dbc21a1408.html

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