Jails handle more than inmates

By Gary Brode | gbrode@wcia.com

Published 03/27 2014 11:46AM

Updated 03/27 2014 12:00PM

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY -- Terry Brownlee, of Champaign, was found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing his mother. It took the courts two months after the judge's decision to get him transferred. Brownlee had a history of mental illness. He stabbed his mother to death, but when it came time for him to get the proper care, he didn't receive it right away. WCIA-3's Gary Brode looks into why it took as long as it did.

Authorities say it's pretty common. Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh says it takes about six weeks for a prisoner to be transferred to a mental health facility. The reason is simple; there just aren't enough beds to house everyone. It's just one part of the mental healthcare problem going on throughout the state.

"It's always frustrating to see someone that needs services, who needs help and for whatever reason can't get it."

More and more prisoners in Champaign County as well as the state are missing out on the proper care.

"We typically have anywhere from three to six inmates awaiting transport to the Department of Mental Health."

According to the Department of Human Services, one in five people experience a mental illness every year. That percentage holds pretty steady in jail and prisons. Statistics from the Bureau of Justice indicates about 16% of prisoners have a mental illness.

"We're not a hospital but, anymore it appears the jails have become extensions of mental health wards. Yesterday we had 19 prisoners that had some sort of special needs; mental health, medical. They just couldn't be housed with other people for various reasons and that really strains our resources to find 19 proper places to put them."

It's not just the space that's an issue. The prisons need more manpower to handle prisoners with mental health issues.

"One officer could move a whole cell block of cooperative individuals. But, we're not going to put just one officer with someone who is going through a psychotic episode because it's just too dangerous. We'll have multiple officers with one person because you never know what they're going to do."

Officers receive crisis intervention training. It teaches them how to deal with inmates suffering mental illness, but it's not just the care prisoners received on the inside that's important.

Bruce Barnard, community elements consultant weighs in.

"If there's going to be services provided in the prison or in the jail, then we need to link to consistent services in the community. You don't want to, all of a sudden, change the kind of counseling model or approach you're using."

It's called Moral Recognition Therapy. Champaign County spent $100,000 on the program.

"Does that mean we write them off? They're somebody's son, someone's daughter. I've seen an awful lot of successful re-entries where people have really come to contribute greatly to society."

Barnard says they're looking into hiring a case manager for the Moral Recognition Therapy Program. Champaign County has two jails, but they were built more than 30 years ago. Sheriff Walsh hopes to see some improvements to them soon, but isn't sure when.

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