Jail Staff Perspectives on Mental Illness

The Treatment Advocacy Center has published a report on the perspective of county jail staff members on inmates with serious mental illness in their charge. The findings:

  •  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, particularly in those 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. 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.
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