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Survey: Sheriffs not equipped to handle inmates with mental illness

County sheriffs have little training to deal with seriously mentally ill inmates, according to a national survey released July 14 by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating barriers to severe mental illness treatment.

“The incarceration rate for Americans with serious mental illnesses has reached a critical stage because many of these individuals are predisposed by their illnesses to committing minor crimes [such as trespassing or shoplifting], landing in jails and racking up prolonged time in jail awaiting a state psychiatric bed,” a Treatment Advocacy Center press release stated. “Many of them receive no or inadequate mental health treatment during their incarceration, which worsens their conditions.”

The survey focused on county jails and tracked staff, including sheriffs, deputies and others who care for mentally ill inmates during their incarceration. They reported receiving limited training to handle the inmates. In addition, fewer than half of jails (42%) provided medication to their inmates, even though receiving medication is known to stabilize patients. The survey was given to 230 sheriffs departments in 39 states, according to the release.

“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,” according to the survey report.

More than 21% of all jails surveyed reported that 16% or more of their inmate population were seriously mentally ill. “Three-quarters of the jails reported seeing more or far more numbers of seriously mentally ill inmates compared to five to 10 years ago,” the survey reported.

With the limited number of patient beds available, many seriously mentally ill inmates remain in prison.

According to the report, “Going, Going, Gone: Trends and Consequences of Eliminating State Psychiatric Beds, 2016,” the nation’s psychiatric bed shortage has deteriorated to “beyond disastrous.” The survey of the states found just 3.5% of the state hospital beds that existed in 1955 were still in operation by the first quarter of 2016. Of the remaining beds, approximately half were occupied by patients charged or convicted of crimes, leaving about 6 state hospital beds per 100,000 people for civil patients, the study reported.

For more information on mental illness, read the CE module Reality‚ Anxiety‚ and Mood:Understanding Major Mental Illnesses.”

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By | 2016-08-24T01:37:13-04:00 July 22nd, 2016|Categories: Nursing News|2 Comments

About the Author:

Sallie Jimenez
Sallie Jimenez is content manager for healthcare for from Relias. She develops and edits content for the blog, which covers industry news and trends in the nursing profession and healthcare. She also develops content for the Digital Editions. She has more than 25 years of healthcare journalism, content marketing and editing experience.


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    Alex James September 1, 2016 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    I am a training coordinator at a county jail in Florida, and I’m interested in bringing this type of training to my staff. Equipping them with the skills to handle mentally ill individuals as they come into our jail. What suggestions can you offer? I agree that we are ill-equipped to deal with this. But I am of the mindset that we have to get better. A larger percentage of people suffer from some type of mental illness, and while I don’t get to decide who comes into our jail, I can help train our deputies on better management skills.
    Thank you for your time and advice.

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