Mental health a huge issue at Harrison County jail - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Mental health a huge issue at Harrison County jail

Officials say the number of inmates dealing with mental health issues is likely to rise. (Photo source: WLOX) Officials say the number of inmates dealing with mental health issues is likely to rise. (Photo source: WLOX)
HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

Law enforcement faces a growing number of inmates with mental health issues. 

It's an issue that's quickly becoming a crisis at prisons and jails across the country. Sheriff Troy Peterson predicts that within a year, the Harrison County jail will be the primary mental health facility in the area.

“If you're arrested and you're charged with a crime, and you have mental health issues, you're sitting in this jail until they get a bed available. And how long do you have to sit here for a bed to get available,” said the sheriff.

Budget cuts are affecting mental health agencies and treatment centers across the country. The impact of that trickles down quickly to local detention facilities.

“It's something that as a community I think we need to get a grip on, get a hold of. If not, it's going to be real bad in a couple of years,” said Peterson.

Of the 800 plus inmates locked up at the Harrison County jail, the sheriff estimates that around 30 percent are dealing with a mental health issues; a percentage that is likely rise.

“The police are there to help with crime, and it would be much better if that's what they were focused on, rather than having to figure out what to do with someone that has some mental health issues,” said Kay Daneault, executive director at the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi. “Maybe setting up some different systems within our area that when someone is encountered, the police officer knows, these are some alternative steps they might be able to do.”

Peterson plans to create a CIT: Crisis Intervention Team. He, along with a small group from his department, will be trained in the summer, then will train others.

“Then we're going to bring other law enforcement on the Coast into the training so we have a better understanding of mental health when we go to a scene. Or when dispatch is talking to someone on the phone that has mental health issues, they can determine what those issues are before us getting there,” said Sheriff Peterson.

The sheriff says he may have to create an entirely separate wing to deal with mental health assessment and treatment issues.

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