HB1640: Changes how law enforcement handles mental illness

GOLDEN TRIANGLE, Miss. (WCBI) – Mississippi lawmakers have made changes in the way law enforcement deals with people awaiting mental health care.

Last week, House Bill 1640 was signed into law.

It limits the amount of time someone can be held in jail during a civil mental health commitment.

It has been reported by Mississippi Today that hundreds of people in the state are jailed without criminal charges every year while they wait for court-ordered mental health treatment.

The recently signed state law will put new limits on how long they can be held.

HB1640 states that a person awaiting a civil commitment can only be held in jail for 48 hours unless they are also facing criminal charges.

Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott said these changes have been needed for a long time.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction in helping county jails with the mental health situation,” Scott said. “The Mississippi Sherriff’s Association has been pushing for the longest, needing to make some changes. We know that people with mental health issues don’t need to be in jail. They need to be in some type of treatment facility.”

Until this law was passed, it was not unusual for people to experience long stays in jail, just waiting for a bed to open up at a mental health facility.

Scott said his department is in a better position than most.

“Clay County has been a little bit more fortunate because we have community counseling here in our community which Clay County has a contract with,” Scott said. “So immediately when we arrest somebody and we see signs of any type of mental illness, we can call them and they will come and do the meeting evaluations for us.”

According to Mississippi Today, since 2006 dozens of people have died in jail waiting on the civil commitment process.

Scott said the new law is a great start but there’s still more work to be done.

“I think we are in the right direction but I don’t think we are where we need to be,” Scott said. “It’s got to be more treatment facilities available of us to be able to get these people to, to be able to get them out of jail faster.”

The state law goes into effect July 1.

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