Program aims to aid mentally ill Those jailed will be sought for treatment

Many are homeless

Those who leave state hospitals often end up in detention

September 26, 1995|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

County health officials hope to begin a program by late fall to help identify and treat people with serious mental illnesses who have been charged with minor crimes and jailed inappropriately. The state's Mental Hygienedirector of Maryland's Criminal Justice Treatment Program.

The initiative is part of a statewide effort to provide incarcerated mentally ill people with access to counseling, education, housing and other services.

"Over the last 20 years, many of the people who were released from state psychiatric hospitals ended up in local detention centers, and we're trying to address that problem," Mr. Watts said.

"We want to reach people who have fallen through the cracks and make sure the treatment they're getting makes sense," he said.

The program's target is the chronically mentally ill who have been convicted or accused of misdemeanors, such as loitering or disorderly conduct.

Many of them are homeless or have substance abuse problems in addition to mental illness.

"If a person is delusional and acts out because they don't take their medication, should they be jailed or referred to a treatment facility?" said Michele Mattison, acting coordinator of outreach and support services with the Carroll County Health Department's Mental Health Division.

Nationally, 7 percent to 15 percent of the country's jail inmates have serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression or manic-depression, Mr. Watts said.

In Carroll, Ms. Mattison estimated, the county Detention Center houses 25 to 50 inmates each year who suffer from chronic mental illnesses.

The state's Mental Health Administration began its effort to address the jailed mentally ill three years ago with pilot programs in Charles and Cecil counties. When Carroll's program begins, 16 of the state's 24 jurisdictions will be able to provide the services, Mr. Watts said.

In July, the Mental Health Administration received a $5.5 million federal grant to be used over the next five years to provide housing for people in the state's Criminal Justice Treatment Program. Mr. Watts said the money probably will be available by January.

Carroll health officials plan to use most of the $50,000 state grant to hire a full-time social worker to identify the mentally ill at some stage in the criminal justice system before they are jailed. The social worker will then work with them to develop an alternative treatment plan. That may involve obtaining psychiatric treatment, finding housing or enrolling in education or vocational programs, Mr. Watts said.

The second component of the program will address the mentally ill who are already incarcerated. The social worker will provide counseling in jail, develop a treatment plan upon release from jail and provide appropriate follow-up services.

Ms. Mattison said a key element in the success of the program will be coordination between the social worker and other agencies, including the state's attorney's office, human services programs, law enforcement agencies and the county's parole and probation office.

Mr. Watts said the state grant also will pay for a psychiatrist to make weekly visits to the county Detention Center.

"We're aiming to provide a system of holistic care so that this population won't return to a psychiatric hospital, jail or homelessness," Mr. Watts said.

Ms. Mattison said she knows of many mentally ill people in Carroll who are in and out of jail for minor offenses or who are likely to end up in jail.

"There are mentally ill people who commit crimes and should be jailed, but they need counseling and long-term case management," Ms. Mattison said.

For others, she said, jail is not the answer.

Ms. Mattison mentioned a local woman who is usually well-behaved and polite but can become unruly at times.

"I can see her ending up in the Detention Center when it wouldn't be appropriate," she said. "Clearly, these people do not benefit from jail. They become more delusional and more agitated. It makes their sickness worse."

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