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Jails Become Psych Warehouses

More than 1 in 5 Georgia jail inmates have a serious mental illness

Published in the NAMI Augusta Azalea newsletter, August 2010

NAMI Augusta thanks the Augusta Chronicle newspaper for articles published on July 11 and July 19, 2010, calling attention to the local and national crisis of jails holding people with severe mental illness.

The Chronicle's journalism documents a crisis that is all too well known to NAMI at every level - local, state, and national. County jails are operating as America's emergency mental health receiving facilities by default.

NAMI Augusta board member LeAnn Jean has been investigating the situation in local jails. She has found inmates held for many months who have been court ordered to psychiatric hospitalization. No adequate facilities exist to care for these inmates in the mental health system. LeAnn is furthering her advocacy with elected officials to see what can be done.

All too often, citizens become embedded within the criminal justice system due to a mental health crisis produced by a lack of access to core services -- which include medications, counseling, housing, transportation, and supportive employment. Law enforcement professionals often have no choice but to arrest these Georgians who are in crisis due to a lack of treatment options.

Over twenty percent of the inmates housed in Georgia's jails have a serious mental illness and it is getting higher; leaving sheriffs and staff with the challenge of operating a mental health program within a correctional setting.

And it's all being funded by the local taxpayer.

Nationally and in Georgia, suicide remains the leading cause of death within a jail setting. Jails foster despair, not recovery.

The Georgia sheriffs association and the statewide Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Advisory Board urge the following:

  • 1) Consistent intake screenings and procedures for people with mental illness
  • 2) Consistent treatment and formulary in jails
  • 3) Consistent discharge for people with mental illness.
  • Our jails will continue to be over populated with citizens with psychiatric disabilities until our civic leaders embrace their responsibility to ensure quality hospital and community mental health services that are available and accessible for our most vulnerable citizens.

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