/Budget cuts may swell county jails with mentally ill

Budget cuts may swell county jails with mentally ill

The former Washington School High School track star was on his way to Greenville from Washington when a trooper stopped him. He was barefoot and had no wallet. Bill Walker and a friend drove up Highway 61 and bailed their son out. Walker recalls that Reynolds kept cranking up the radio volume, and said he heard instructions from people. Walker recalls that Reynolds claimed he heard President Obama tell him he was going be a New York or Los Angeles DJ and he would be his drug czar. “When the police chased him, he claimed he thought it was an official flight to the airport.” After many years of trying to get his son in long-term treatment, Bill Walker stated that they have learned that Reynolds is bipolar, psychotic and delusional. He said that while some short-term treatments were successful, Reynolds would refuse to take his medication again and the behavior cycle would begin all over again. Walker claimed that he tried to persuade Reynolds into an argument when they were together in Starkville. This led to Reynolds striking out at Walker. Reynolds was placed in Oktibbeha County Jail, where he has been held since April. He is currently being held without medical intervention. Bill Walker said that he tried to work with the system but isn’t sure if his son will receive in-house treatment at a state facility financially struggling. Walker screamed with anger, “Now he is sitting there rapidly deteriorating. This is about a financial issue.” “It’s so stupid.” Oktibbeha County Sheriff Steve Gladney said Reynolds Walker is an example the difficulties facing criminal justice officers who must deal with mental illness in local courts or jails. Gladney stated that “we have to keep them until there is a bed at the state hospital”… “but jail does not belong where these people should go.” “I feel sorry that I cannot do more to help these people.” Jails not equipped Budget problems that keep people locked up in prisons or jails without the necessary mental-health treatment is not new. Local law enforcement officials, judges, and advocates fear that the state’s latest round of cuts to its mental-health department could result in more mentally ill people being held behind bars, when they need medical attention. Since the close of the 2016 legislative session mental-health funding has been under intense scrutiny. The Department of Mental Health saw its funding cut $8.3million, or 4.4 per cent, which prompted the agency to reduce more than 100 beds at the Mississippi State Hospital, East Mississippi State Hospital, and South Mississippi State Hospital. K.C. K.C. Hamp stated that the cuts would affect all counties in the state and will impact adequate care and treatment of people with these illnesses. “Local sheriffs aren’t equipped to deal with people with these conditions.” Joi O Owens, managing attorney of Disability Rights Mississippi, stated that people with mental illnesses are already being criminalized and are denied the services they require when in prison. Owens stated that mental-health supports and services, particularly those that are community-based, should be expanded across the state. “Cuts to mental-health services that are already inadequate will likely add pressure to the criminal justice systems rather than improving quality and variety of services.” A 2010 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center (based in Virginia) found that jail was home to three times as many mentally ill people than hospitals. These findings were supported by a Public Citizen study that was published last month by the Treatment Advocacy Center in Washington, D.C., and Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen. It involved interviews with jail staff from 39 states, including Mississippi. Nearly 76 percent of respondents said they saw more or less inmates with serious mental illness than five to ten years ago. Several jail officials, who were not named in this report, also reported that budget constraints contributed to the problem. Surveyors didn’t identify one official who said that an increase in mentally ill prisoners in small jails was alarming. Because of budget cuts, staff had to manage the problem without medical professionals. Adam Moore, a spokesperson for the Mississippi mental-health department, stated that the reductions in recent years mainly affected adult male chemical dependency units at Mississippi State Hospital, East Mississippi State Hospital. “DMH program directors decided to close these programs because: 1) DMH has already closed 500 psychiatric beds in the state since 2008. Moore informed Mississippi Today via email that there are other options for chemical dependency treatment services available through DMH Certified Providers. In the face of lower revenues than anticipated, state budget writers stated that cuts were necessary in order to balance the books. Lt. Governor. Tate Reeves specifically challenged the effectiveness of certain mental-health department programs in a June interview with Mississippi Today. Reeves referred to the Department of Mental Health and said: “The Program they’re closing down, 750 people they had last year. How many of them have repeated a similar program either within the Department of Mental Health (or outside)? It seems like a reasonable question. It was a reasonable question. I was told that we don’t know. We spent $3.8million on Whitfield and East Mississippi programs – which were needed – but we don’t know the results and can’t tell us if they were successful. “They can’t tell us if it helped one person.” House Democrats failed to restore funding for mental health services when the Legislature met in special session to address budget gaps. “This body made some very serious errors,” Rep. Adrienne Wolfe, D-Ridgeland said to colleagues as she proposed to transfer money to mental-health services during debate on two amendments. Local courts and jails are feeling the effects of the backlog in mental-health services. Troy Peterson, Harrison County sheriff, oversees the largest state jail that can hold 750 inmates. Peterson stated that while Harrison County’s first responders can take in people with mental illness, they don’t have the facilities to provide treatment for them. Peterson stated that the jail was not the right place for mentally ill people. But that’s where many with mental illness end up. The Clarion-Ledger reported that Steven Jessie Harris, a prisoner at the Clay County Jail, spent eleven years waiting for a mental-health assessment. Larry David McLaurin, a Raymond Detention Center prisoner, was beaten to death by Elton Oneal McClaurin, his cellmate. Both men had mental-health problems. The U.S. Justice Department announced in May a settlement with Mississippi’s largest county regarding conditions at its jail. According to the Justice Department, “prisoners suffering from mental illness are severely harmed by the conditions of the jail.” This agreement was praised for its ability to address mental illness at Hinds County jail. Officials say that the reforms are in doubt due to the state’s recent budget cuts. Tomie Green, the Hinds County senior circuit judge, worked in the health-care industry in the late 1970s and 1980s before she went to law school. She estimates that between 30-40 percent of criminal defendants in her case are suffering from some type of mental illness. She said that adding to the mental-health budget was “almost inhumane.” Green stated that while it will make the job more difficult, it will also make the community less secure. “Without programs, places for people, they’re going be in our neighborhoods,” Green said. Reynolds Walker is now 24 years old and waiting in an Oktibbeha County Jail Cell to receive treatment for the mental illness which overtook him five years ago with a sudden, vicious attack. Many other prisoners are awaiting a psychiatric assessment to determine whether they are competent to stand trial. For defendants who have been ordered to be committed by the court, there are 35 beds in the forensic-unit unit at Mississippi State Hospital Whitfield. 15 of those beds can be used for inpatient evaluations, treatment, and competency restoration for persons charged with criminal offenses. There are 144 names on the waiting list for those 35 beds. The average wait time is about 11 months. One psychiatrist and one psychologist will be on the staff of the unit to help mentally ill criminal defendants in all 82 counties. The Mississippi State Hospital proposes a 60-bed facility for forensics. This will allow local law enforcement to move mentally ill prisoners toward treatment. It is estimated that the cost of this facility would be approximately $17.5 million. Officials repeatedly told legislators that the completion of such a facility would “significantly” break the logjam between county jails and treatment. Although the Department of Mental Health has not reduced the number of forensic beds in its facilities, agency officials acknowledge the need for more. Mike Christensen, spokesperson for Mississippi State Hospital, acknowledged that the facility is unable to provide the necessary assistance to Walkers families. However, state budget pressures can have serious consequences. Christensen points out that MSH had requested funding for renovations to the Forensics unit as early as 2002. “Beginning 2008, the request was made for funds to build a new unit that would replace the 1955-built facility.” Bill Walker, an attorney, says it’s time to take drastic measures, possibly a federal lawsuit, to get the appropriate funding. This will help his son, and other Mississippians, and their families, in similar circumstances. Walker is forced to seek inpatient treatment for him son by the state. He said, “Reynolds needs me to fight for his, but there are so much people in Mississippi who don’t have someone like that.” Walker stated, “This is such cruel punishment, there’s not any help without him being committed (to Mississippi State Hospital).” I don’t know if the state can retrieve him. He is being slowly tortured by the state and I fear that he will continue to be like this forever.” To support this important work, you can make a regular donation today to celebrate our Spring Member Drive. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think. Republish this Story You can freely republish our articles online or in print under a Creative Commons licence. 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