Durham Sheriff Hopeful New Grant Will Provide Needed Improvements for Mental Health Treatment | News

Durham Sheriff Hopeful New Grant Will Provide Needed Improvements for Mental Health Treatment

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Sheriff Mike Andrews announces the Durham County Sheriff's Office was awarded a $228,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice on October 3, 2016 at the Durham County jail. - LAUREN HORSCH
  • Lauren Horsch
  • Sheriff Mike Andrews announces the Durham County Sheriff's Office was awarded a $228,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice on October 3, 2016 at the Durham County jail.

The Durham County Sheriff’s Office is hopeful to have its mental health detainee pod up and running by the end of the first quarter of 2017. With the help of a three-year, $228,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and an additional $55,205 in matching funds from the county, the jail will be able to provide better care for detainees suffering from mental illness.

According to the sheriff’s office, at least 20 percent of the inmates in the jail receive some form of mental health services, including medication. So the sheriff’s office, along with the county’s Criminal Justice Resource Center, are creating a new intake process that will help identify the needs of the inmates.

The interior of the future mental health pod. - LAUREN HORSCH
  • Lauren Horsch
  • The interior of the future mental health pod.

Sheriff Mike Andrews said mental health care gaps were caused by limited funding—“putting county jails, like ours, on the front line of mental health care.” The new process will also help the sheriff’s office finds ways to make sure once an inmate leaves, they’re less likely to return.

Detention services director Lt. Col. Natalie Perkins says the grant will allow for additional officer training, specifically around mental health first aid and crisis intervention.

The new mental health pod will house a maximum of twenty-four detainees that will be served by specially trained officers and a nurse from Correct Care Solutions. In the event there are more than twenty-four people in need of mental health services in the jail at one time, the most severe cases will be housed in the pod and others will continue to reside in the general population. 

Gudrun Parmer with the Criminal Justice Resource Center said the grants allow for the housing of the “most fragile and most vulnerable individuals” in the jail, and will streamline care.

“Think of this almost as a mental health clinic inside of the facility," Parmer says. "You can come here and see everyone instead of going all over the building."

A typical interior of jail cell inside the Durham County jail. - LAUREN HORSCH
  • Lauren Horsch
  • A typical interior of jail cell inside the Durham County jail.
The pod looks like any other pod in the jail—it has smaller cells featuring a sink, toilet, bed, and window to get a glimpse of the world outside of the walls. There are tables and chairs in the center of it and windows face the hallway, allowing inmates to see those coming and going. But it'll be more than just a jail cell. 

"Having a pod with all mental health clients will one, help do more specialized services and more specialized treatment," Parmer says. "When you have a large facility and you have to classify the pods based on security and other concerns, then you have a mix, and staff has to go into every pod. It's very time consuming to see every client in the facility." 

It'll also allow the caregivers to spend more time with the clients to give them better care. The survey given to those entering the jail is a system that allows inmates to self-report issues. Based on the answers they provide, services are recommended. Prior to starting the pod, Parmer says planning is being done to create the evaluation and screen tools used in the pod and will best fit Durham County’s needs.

Andrews says the grant is the largest the department has been given in recent years and will help the jail be "prepared for the future, to be innovated and efficient." 

"We want a facility that other communities that will want to model," Andrews says. "We want a facility that Durham County citizens are proud of." 

Having jails provide mental health treatment is especially important considering studies that have found there are more mentally ill individuals in jail than in hospitals. Let's also not forget how expensive it is to house people in jail—$110.19 per day. In 2015 alone the county spent over $21 million to help the jail operate. 

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