Mental Health: The more services, the better.
While mandates require us to provide mental health services, it is the right thing to do. The mental health population inside our jails is not going down anytime soon. It is something all jails and we administrators are experiencing. So my solution is, the more help and services I can provide these citizens, the better their quality of life will be; hopefully, we can keep them from coming back to jail.
In Washington County we have an excellent Local Mental Health Authority (LMHA) that was already in place; all I had to do was expand it inside of my jail. My jail, at the time, did not have anyone with MHMR staffed inside the jail. I met with the LMHA and Commissioner Joy Fuchs to devise a plan that would staff a member of MHMR full time inside the jail. Now I have a full-time forensic case manager with an office inside the jail. She screens all of the incoming inmates and provides the services when needed.
Knowing that was not going to be enough, I contacted Dr. Carly McCord, director of Telebehavioral Care for Texas A&M University, about setting up telehealth counseling services inside the jail. As of now we currently have two groups, plus individual counseling for the inmates who wish to participate. We were among the first in the state to implement these services and currently have two other counties (Robertson and Burleson) that share and participate in our counseling services.
How the system works:
The inmate is screened as soon as he or she enters the jail. The screening is then reviewed by the jail staff, forensic case manager, and justice of the peace. The inmate then receives services based on his/her answers. That could be a separate screening from the forensic case manager, a telehealth appointment with a psychologist, or an evaluation by our health service nurse or jail doctor. This process is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If an inmate makes an immediate outcry wanting services, then the inmate will be screened by a forensic case manager within the hour.
We currently have 10 inmates on the list that see the psychologist via telehealth. Some are biweekly, and others are monthly, depending on how they are responding to their treatment. The list can shrink or grow daily; it just depends on the inmates. We currently have around 20-30 inmates who participate in our tele-health counseling programs with A&M. This does not include inmates from Robertson and Burleson counties.
Counties who want to launch a similar program should get buy-in from their Commissioners Court and from the community. Of course money definitely helps, but you will eventually need services from the community. For rural counties, this is a challenge because they might only have limited to no services available. This requires you to think outside the box. Like Robertson and Burleson counties, they do not have the resources or funds available for services, so I let them participate through my program. We have to help each other if we are going to make a difference.
Train your officers! The mandates are going to continue and get more structured and complicated. The more training your staff receives, the better off you are going to be. Be in the know, IDD (Intellectual or Developmental Disability) is the new hot topic, and the state is currently figuring out how to implement the screening process and how to identify individuals with these impairments. So, as a whole, we need to start working with our services and community to make treatment more accessible for these individuals while incarcerated.
Washington County Jail Administrator