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Friday, August 30, 2013

A Dream Revived!

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At 10 am today Episcopal Rector Daniel Rabayo, EMU counseling professor Cheree Hammond and other concerned citizens Rita Dunaway, Doris Pye, Sam Nickles and I met with Community Services Board Director Lacy Whitmore to discuss ways of improving mental health services at the local jail. This was a follow-up to a similar meeting some of us had with him a year ago.

Currently the CSB has a contract to provide a mere 2 1/2 hours of psychiatric services each week for a very crowded inmate population numbering from 350 to 400, plus leading some substance abuse classes and being on call for emergency services. Due to a lack of staff and other resources, suicidally depressed persons may 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.

Here's a link to information about the uses of such restraints during the first six months of this year.

We made some good progress today. With Mr. Whitmore's support, we agreed to form a local planning group of concerned citizens to come up with a proposal to utilize professional mental health volunteers to provide surveillance and care for suicidal and other emotionally distressed inmates. Lacy will discuss this further with Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson and I will be gathering and circulating information from the Arlington Regional Jail, a facility that already has such a program in place. We hope to have our first planning meeting in four to six weeks.

For the long term, we strongly support a proposal Mr. Whitmore presented today for a full time "Jail Services Crisis Clinician". We recognize this may face major funding hurdles, but in the meantime believe we can do much more to improve mental health services at the jail with well supervised volunteer help and coordination. While safety and liability issues are always a concern, 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."

We thank Mr. Whitmore for meeting with us today and for helping us gain some good traction for moving forward. If you would like to be a part of this community effort to help the jail become a better place for growth and rehabilitation, please get in touch. We'll keep you posted.

For more posts on criminal justice reform, check this link.
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