County prioritizing mental health at jail

While multi-million-dollar grants often grab the most attention, smaller awards can also make a major difference in our community. 

Last week, the Bartholomew County Commissioners ratified an agreement between the county and the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to create a $187,000 grant to go to the jail to increase mental health services.

In short, the funding will increase the mental health services at the jail from eight hours per week to 40.

Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin said that increased isolation created by COVID-19 has led to an increase in need for the services. Currently, there are about 200 inmates at the jail.

According to jail officials, in 2019, there were 219 inmates with mental health referrals, 121 inmates with mental health observations, and eight inmates with "major mental health issues." Last year, there were 582 inmates with mental health referrals, 473 inmates under mental health observation, and 53 major mental health issues.

Mental illness is common in many American jails. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness.

According to a 2016 study by the nonprofit group Treatment Advocacy Center, 20% of inmates in jails and 15% of inmates in state prisons were estimated to have a serious mental illness.

The local grant will reimburse the county for a portion of the cost providing mental health services at the jail. County attorney J. Grant Tucker said that the county will spend money first and then apply to be reimbursed up to the grant amount.

These mental health services are extremely valuable to inmates, who might not seek — or be able to afford — treatment outside of jail.

Hopefully the increase in services will help inmates not just in the present, but for years to come once they’re released.