Friday, September 08, 2023

By addressing inmates' mental health problems, some rural counties aim to stop a cycle of incarceration

Photo via RHIHub

Rural jail population statistics paint a grim picture of traumatized, abused or mentally ill individuals who volley between jail and life outside without ever receiving treatment; rural counties aim to change that dynamic by addressing mental health needs during incarceration, reports Gretel Kauffman for Rural Health Information Hub.

Washington County, Texas, pop. 35,000, is one of those countries. Eric Hensley, the county's chief sheriff's deputy overseeing jail operations, "heard about a psychological telehealth program at nearby Texas A&M University. Hensley immediately began to wonder how the technology could be used in the Washington County Jail," Kauffman reports. "Three years later, an estimated 150 people incarcerated in the Washington County jail have participated in virtual group or one-on-one counseling through a partnership between the jail and the Texas A&M Telebehavioral Care program, and two other rural Texas counties have replicated the program in their own jails, too."

In Marion, Ohio, pop. 36,000, "seeing familiar faces in the courtroom was a common occurrence for James Boleyn," Kauffman reports. "Boleyn, who serves as Director of Specialized Dockets for Marion Municipal Court, told Kauffman, "We were running into this situation again and again, and we decided we needed to do something as a community and say, 'How can we interrupt this cycle and better resource these individuals?'" Kauffman adds, "In 2021, Marion County signed onto the Stepping Up Initiative, a project by the National Association of Counties that encourages counties to improve and expand mental health resources in their local criminal justice systems. . . .The county is focusing its efforts inside the jail, which hasn't offered mental health treatment services up until this point."

Many communities address inmates' mental health needs while helping them plan for life upon release. Kauffman reports, "While rural communities may have fewer mental health resources available to people recently released from jail, that simplicity can also help to streamline the transition process, Erin Comartin, an associate professor in the Wayne State University School of Social Work, noted. In one rural community she worked with, the mental health center and jail were a parking lot away from each other." Comartin told Kaufman: "It was really great because when the jail was releasing somebody, they just call over and say, 'Hey, do you want to come to the other end of the parking lot and help this person get back into services?'"

Isaac Saldivar, a psychologist working virtually with clients in the Washington County Jail and two other rural county jails, "describes jail-based mental health services as having the potential to produce a 'dramatic domino effect' throughout rural communities," Kauffman writes, "The more they heal, the healthier the community becomes." Saldivar told Kauffman: “These are community members that are hurting and need healing. That's someone's friend, someone's brother, someone's sister, someone's father. And the more they heal, the healthier the community becomes.”

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