Treatment options limited, expensive for mentally ill inmates behind bars

Separate facility could be used in future

INDIANAPOLIS - There is a growing debate over the treatment of those with mental illnesses who wind up behind bars, perhaps only for their mental illness.

The Marion County Sheriff cited the community’s failure to provide adequate mental health services, which in turn has repeatedly landed certain individuals in the criminal justice system.

Of the more than 1,000 inmates at the Marion County Jail, 40 percent carry some designation of mental illness.

The jail’s infirmary dispenses 700 prescriptions per day.

Officials said the mentally ill cost twice as much to house as the regular population because they require more staffing, more frequent rounds and closer supervision.

“Consequently, not only trying to keep them safe, but keep our staff safe and other inmates safe, the housing requirements are pretty difficult,” said Gary Tingle, the Marion County Sheriff's Office Jail Commander.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has sued the Department of Corrections over its treatment of the more than 4,000 inmates with mental illnesses in the prison system.

A federal judge ruled that segregating inmates with mental disabilities for up to 23 hours a day constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

The state was looking to add additional facilities and staffing.

“We lock them up and somehow we think that’s going to fix it. It’s not going to. As you know, 99 percent of all prisoners get out. If we don’t treat them adequately while they’re in prison or jail, they’re going to be out on the streets again, mentally ill,” said Ken Falk with the ACLU of Indiana.

The Midtown Community Mental Health Center has partnered with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department to try and identify people who wind up on the wrong side of the law because of their mental disabilities.

Mental health professionals said it is important to get those individuals through the legal system as quickly as possible and into services.

“We have numerous wrap-around services that we have for these people to keep them in the community, providing housing, treatment services, various treatment programs. And it’s better for society, and quite frankly, it’s cheaper for the taxpayers,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kellam with Midtown Community Mental Health Center.

Because of the unique staffing and medical challenges, officials said it is possible that there could be a separate facility for incarceration and treatment for inmates with mental disabilities.

Follow Jack Rinehart on Twitter: @jackrinehart6

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