County commissioners across the East focus on mental illness in jails

CRAVEN COUNTY, N.C. (WNCT) – County commissioners across the East are focusing on mental illness in jails. It’s a problem that’s costing tax payers millions of dollars and one Governor Pat McCrory is tackling with a new task force.

As many as two million prisoners, or 40 percent of those incarcerated suffer from some sort of mental illness.

A national initiative called “Stepping Up” aims to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails.

The hope is that counties can work with local law enforcement to become more familiar with mental illness awareness and the crisis intervention training programs taught by East Carolina Behavioral Health.

“Each county is responsible for whatever individual comes into their care,” said Craven County Sheriff Jerry Monette.

“And so certainly we recognize it’s a pronounced need here in our area so what we’re doing now is looking at whatever avenues we can look at to take and alleviate some of the problems and that’s by bringing everybody to the table.”

Craven County Commissioner Scott Dacey hopes through the initiative, they can reduce the number of mentally ill inmates and get them proper care.

“From a human perspective, it’s very important that we make certain that people are treated appropriately,” said Dacey. “If an individual is seriously suffering from mental illness a jail setting is not the proper place for them.”

Studies show people with mental illnesses are more likely to end up in jail again.

It costs taxpayers two to three times more to house mentally ill inmates.

“Every penny for penny,” said Monette. “Everything, they’re wards of the county so these costs are expensive and of course we want to do everything we can to help. And many times the diversion itself would save money and also keep numbers down in our jail and keep bed spaces open for more serious offenders.”

Moving forward, the hope is to have a form of patient out-care for inmates released in order to lower the number of repeat offenders in the jail system.

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