Carroll jail hires outside company

Firm to help provide more complete care for mentally ill inmates

October 17, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Confronted with a growing population of mentally ill inmates, Carroll County Detention Center began using a new service provider yesterday in hopes of creating a more complete treatment approach for mental health problems, the facility's warden said.

The county picked Correctional Mental Health Services Inc. of Reisterstown because the new company's bid guaranteed more service for inmates and more training for guards at a lower cost - $34,800 a year - than the jail's former psychiatrist charged for more limited help, said Warden George E. Hardinger.

"We think we're getting a lot out of this contract," Hardinger said. "It seems like a very good deal, something that could be a model for other counties."

The Carroll County contract is the first for the company, founded in August by psychiatrist Stephen Goldberg, a professor at the University of Maryland who worked with the Baltimore County Detention Center from 1997 until May. Goldberg said he started the company because mentally ill inmates at many jails have specific needs that are not being met.

"You can't just show up and treat individuals," he said. "You have to have a mental health unit and be a real presence."

Hardinger said that wardens at many jails in smaller counties are "banging their heads" trying to figure out how to deal with growing mentally ill populations. He said he often makes disciplinary decisions for inmates who might or might not be mentally ill, decisions he feels unqualified to make.

He said the Carroll jail traditionally has disciplined the mentally ill like other inmates but says he hopes Goldberg will help determine when bad behavior stems from deeper psychiatric problems.

Goldberg said he plans to train guards so they can better identify and handle mental health problems. He also plans to establish a separate unit for mentally ill inmates that might run under different behavioral rules and would include regular group discussions about mental health problems. Goldberg and Hardinger said they are unsure how many of the jail's 270 inmates that unit might include, but said they hope it will be operating in a few months.

Two of Goldberg's colleagues at the University of Maryland and a social worker also will work at the jail.

In previous years, a psychiatrist treated individual inmates but never ran an overall program for the mentally ill, Hardinger said.

"She did a wonderful job serving the county, but she was seldom here more than an hour and 20 minutes a week," he added.

Hardinger also said the cost of the psychiatrist's services varied year to year and said he looks forward to having a fixed price for mental health services in his annual budget.

The county commissioners signed the one-year contract - which includes four renewable option years - two weeks ago, and Goldberg spent his first day familiarizing himself with the jail yesterday.

"I'm very excited that this opportunity has come up so quickly," he said. "The warden seems very interested in making the changes that are necessary. It's a new day."

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