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Regional Jail seeks funds to continue program to help mentally ill inmates

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The Hampton Roads Regional Jail, which houses more seriously mentally ill people than any other jail in Virginia, wants money to continue a pilot program designed to help such inmates get out – and stay out.

To do that, it needs more money. Further funding of the pilot program started at the jail last year or a new proposal may provide the money. One or both could be approved by the legislature.

“Some of these mentally ill people we see three or four times a year,” said Capt. Thurman Barnes, chief of security. Many of them do “just enough” to get arrested again, he said.

Cycling in and out of jail is common for mentally ill people across the country. They are often picked up for low-level offenses and taken to jail. When they get out, little or no treatment is available, so they wind up back inside for another minor offense.

Hampton Roads Regional Jail was one of six jails involved in the pilot program last year. Each had its own proposal and project dealing with mental illness. Hampton Roads focused on discharge planning.

The jail used the pilot program funds, just under $1 million, to develop Community Oriented Re-Entry (CORE). CORE is designed to break the cycle by making services more available and helping inmates stay on their medications prior to and after release.

In the governor’s proposed 2018 budget, an amendment to two bills, HB30 and SB30, would maintain the funding for the mental health pilot programs at the six jails.

Many of the changes at Hampton Roads Regional Jail have come after Jamycheal Mitchell, a 24-year-old man who had been arrested for stealing $5 worth of snacks, died there in 2015 while waiting for a bed at a state mental hospital. Mitchell refused to eat or take any medication and deteriorated in the jail over the course of a few months.

The Hampton Roads facility houses about 350 inmates with serious mental illness, many of them repeat offenders. Riverside Regional Jail has the second-highest number with about 230 inmates.

“It’s because they can’t get medicated and can’t get the services they need,” Dr. Sarah Determan, the Hampton Roads jail’s mental health director, said of the inmates who cycle through the system.

To be eligible for CORE, inmates must be diagnosed with a serious mental illness by Hampton Roads Regional Jail medical or psychiatric staff. They are also evaluated based on their sentence and charge and must be approved by CORE staff.

In CORE, inmates have access to in-house programming, counseling, case management and peer support. When released, participants in the program are provided lodging, clothing and food. They also get bus tickets and help with transportation.

After being released from jail, they are monitored for about 90 days. Staff make sure they get to appointments with Community Services Boards, which administer mental health services, and receive their medication.

Kathie Moore, a CORE peer specialist, described an inmate who was recently released and is participating in the program. The woman, who is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and PTSD, has applied for jobs and made it to all her scheduled appointments with her Community Services Board.

“She seems to be doing really well. She’s only been out for a couple of weeks but she’s excited and she’s following through,” Moore said. “I think that’s a really good thing.”

The grant that funds this initiative provides four case managers to oversee the discharge planning process.

An additional budget amendment to SB30 being proposed by the Deeds Commission in the current General Assembly session could also provide funding for discharge planning at Hampton Roads Regional Jail.

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, said in an interview with The Pilot that a legislative commission he chairs is proposing that the five jails in Virginia with the most mentally ill inmates adopt discharge planning. The budget amendment would cost about $4 million.

In addition to the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, the other jails included in the Deeds Commission proposal are: Riverside Regional, Southwestern Virginia Regional, Blue Ridge Regional and Chesapeake City.

The Hampton Roads facility houses more than 10 percent of the state’s seriously mentally ill jail inmates.

Neither proposal would address the needs of inmates who are not mentally ill but have other health problems. They would, however, put more resources into helping an especially vulnerable population.

Deeds said he likes the idea of expanding the funding to cover jails throughout the state over the next few years.

“To discharge them without a plan is almost irresponsible,” Deeds said. “You are setting them up for failure and setting yourself up for more expense, more trouble.”

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