Budget compromise comes as a blow to mental health funding in prisons | News

Budget compromise comes as a blow to mental health funding in prisons


We knew there would be casualties.

Consider mental health reform in North Carolina prisons to be at least a partial casualty of the Senate and House budget compromise.

The agreement announced this week allocates about $11.9 million for reform efforts in the next two years. Based on the proposal, which Gov. Pat McCrory has indicated he will sign, the state would spend about $7.7 million opening new mental health treatment units at eight prisons.

Another $4.2 million would be allocated to fund 66 positions in the mental health wing of Raleigh's Central Prison, the primary medical and mental health facility for male inmates in North Carolina. Yet it leaves out improved mental health screening procedures, a key cog in mental health reform. 

Expect advocates in the mental health community to consider this something of a disappointment. State leaders promised broad changes to our prisons' mental health treatment capabilities after the Indy uncovered the death of Michael Anthony Kerr last year.

Kerr, who suffered from schizoaffective disorder, spent days handcuffed in his solitary confinement cell, without consuming food or water, at Alexander Correctional Facility in Taylorsville before prison workers decided to transfer him to Central Prison.

Kerr died en route. An autopsy report later cited dehydration as the cause of death.

The budget compromise is a significant cut from Gov. McCrory's proposal. McCrory, who described the prisons as a "broken culture" after Kerr's death, proposed spending $24.4 million on reforms. That included improved mental health screening procedures.

Prison leaders announced two dozen reforms after Kerr's death, including new management teams, crisis training for officers and prison staff, and the formation of an ongoing task force of mental health and prison leaders debating a policy on the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with a mental illness.

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