Friday, August 17, 2012

Could We Make This Dream Come True?

At noon today local pastor Cindy Carr, EMU counseling professor Cheree Hammond, pastor and jail chaplain Ben Risser, Rockingham Cooperative General Manager Norman Wenger and I met with Community Services Board Director Lacy Whitmore to discuss ways of improving mental health services at the local jail.

Currently the CSB has a contract to provide only 2 1/2 hours of psychiatric services each week for a very crowded inmate population of approximately 340. Due to a lack of staff and other resources suicidally depressed persons may still spend hours confined to either a restraint chair or the padded isolation cell, the latter with the inmate having only a paper gown to wear and with their only amenity being a hole in the floor for a commode.

By way of contrast, Cindy Carr talked about the recent experience of having their adult daughter successfully complete a well staffed five-week drug rehabilitation program, one which has completely revolutionized her life. The cost was considerable of course, but still less than the $26,000 tax payer cost of a year of incarceration that provides for virtually no rehabilitation.

We realize a jail can never be like a rehab center, but the dream that emerged today was whether we could generate the support needed (perhaps in collaboration with the CSB) to hire a full or part time therapist for the jail, one who could also coordinate a program of volunteer professionals to help meet some of the mental health and reentry needs of inmates. Safety and liability issues were raised, but state regulations do allow for outside personnel to visit inmates at the discretion of the sheriff or other jail administrator, as follows:

Code section 53:1-127 "... the sheriff, jail administrator or other person in charge of the facility shall prescribe the time and conditions under which attorneys and other persons may enter the local correctional facility for which he is responsible."

Here are some of the questions I had prepared for Mr. Whitmore prior to our meeting:

Is the current contract with the jail (to provide 2 1/2 hours a week of psychiatric care) adequate for the needs of over 300 inmates?

Answer: No official CSB position on whether this is adequate or inadequate.

What benefits, if any, would there be in some kind of partnership with other concerned professionals in expanding or improving mental health services at the local jail? What form of partnership might be most helpful?

Answer: May be desirable, but difficult to implement.

Does the CSB have any position or recommendation regarding the current use of the restraint chair and/or the isolated padded cell for suicidally depressed inmates? Or the segregated cell, where inmates may be held for weeks at a time with no reading material (except the Bible)?

Lacked sufficient time to discuss this.

Would the CSB welcome having other health care professional, including volunteers and counselor interns, be available for close monitoring of suicidal inmates and/or other counseling services if permission could be granted by the Sheriff?

Answer: Not sure. It’s hard to picture that happening in the current situation.

Does the CSB share the jail administration's fears about liability and safety if there were greater access granted for additional professional mental health services to inmates?

Lacked sufficient time to discuss this.

If you could have your own wishes granted, what would be your dream program for mental health services for inmates at our regional jail?

Spent some time brainstorming time this.

Overall, this was a good session, for which we sincerely thank Mr. Whitmore, and I hope we can keep this conversation going. Maybe the dream of having the jail become more of a place for growth and rehabilitation can still come true. Stay posted.

You may also want to read this recent post.
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