Some correctional facilities find mental health resources, availability limited

LEE COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) – It’s a startling statistic. Prisons and jails are the largest providers of mental health services in the United States.

One area sheriff said with the condition of his jail, providing basic services is tough, and providing treatment for inmates with mental health issues is nearly impossible.

From day one, the Lee County Jail has been at, or over capacity. And in recent years, the jail has seen a sharp increase in inmates with mental health issues.

“We have to treat these people in order to get them better,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson.

With crowded facilities, outdated equipment, and limited resources, Johnson said the current jail isn’t equipped to provide that treatment.

“This is just getting worse and worse as the days go. There’s no tweaking; there’s no fixing. There have been three different studies, from different individuals who don’t even know each other have said exactly the same thing, that this facility is outdated,” said Johnson.

The most recent study was completed two years ago and found many problems with the current jail. Since then, the issue has come up before Lee County Supervisors. Last year, the board reversed course and chose not to go ahead with an $85 million bond issue that would have funded a new jail and correctional center, library upgrades, and a new 911 system.

Lee County is now paying Itawamba County to house some inmates at that county’s new correctional facility. In the meantime, Johnson said Lee County is looking to partner with local mental health centers to help those inmates who need mental health services.

“A lot of these people who are committed or waiting to go are out here in the general public, but that’s not the way the system was designed because they’re not getting any treatment in the general public. If they are here, they’re not getting the treatment they need. They’re getting some, but not what they need, and mental health is in the same situation. They don’t have the bed space,” said Johnson.

Johnson also said the longer a decision is delayed, the higher the cost will be for a new jail and justice facility.

Longtime Supervisors Billy Joe Holland and Phil Morgan are not seeking re-election. Candidates for their positions have all toured the Lee County Jail and said they’re ready to tackle the issue.

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