Harrison Co. leaders look at ways to give more help to those with mental illnesses

Sheriff, supervisors team up to tackle mental health issues

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Right now, eight inmates at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center are considered extreme mental health patients. The sheriff said a judge ordered them to go to a mental health facility, but there's no space for them. On Monday, a meeting held by the Harrison County Board of Supervisors looked at ways to get treatment to those who need it.

Members of the coast law enforcement community see mental health issues every day. It's a problem that if untreated could land someone on the wrong side of the law.

"We have got to get more serious about how we approach mental health," said Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania.

Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson said he sees several people in his jail that actually belong in a mental health facility.

"The budgets are completely flawed. I mean most people think it costs more to house inmates than it does mental health, but the state provides the budget for mental health - about $585 million- whereas the MDOC budget for inmates is a little over $300 million. So you just wonder where the money is going," said Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson.

Several mental health professionals also gave their input on the problem as well as getting more beds at the 16-bed Crisis Stabilization Unit, which services Harrison County along with three other counties. CSU serves people who, in some cases, are considered a danger to themselves or others.

"I definitely see the need for an increase in the capacity to serve individuals who need to be committed," said Gulf Coast Mental Health Executive Director   Shelley Foreman.

Harrison County Supervisor Beverly Martin said she doesn't believe 16 beds at CSU is enough for the four counties it services.

"My goal ultimately is to have the need fulfilled. Let's treat these mentally ill people. Let's try to prevent all these things we see all across the country," Martin said.

"We need, in my opinion, mental health more than we have ever needed it in any other time in our nation and Mississippi. Our population in Harrison County definitely needs it," said Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rockco.

One person at the meeting stated there is a shortage of psychiatrists on the coast. Martin said she plans on learning more about the Mississippi Health Department's budget and policies and look at changing legislation to allow more beds at the CSU.

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