City Becomes First in Nation to Add Behavioral Health Center to Jail

We have written extensively about the intersection of criminal justice and mental health, and how when the two collide, often the results are poor for everyone involved. Many times, those arrested for misdemeanor offenses are not "criminals" in the traditional sense, but they are suffering from mental illness, and treatment would be infinitely more productive than incarceration.

In fact, the Oklahoma County Jail, seems to be a prime example of this problem, with a high population of inmates with mental illness, a high rate of jail suicide, and a lack of mental health resources for those with mental illness and substance abuse issues. Remember, addiction and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand with mental illness as people without appropriate resources attempt to self-medicate.

Nashville, Tennessee, is becoming the first city in the nation to not only take note of this alarming trend, but also develop a positive solution. The Davidson County Jail is adding a separate Behavioral Health Center for those who have committed misdemeanor offenses, but are also suffering from mental illness. The sheriff's department is setting aside $10 million of its $133 million jail budget to build the facility.

According to Sheriff Daron Hall, at least 30 percent of the Davidson County Jail inmate population suffers from some type of mental illness. He told reporters, "Society has turned to the criminal justice system to deal with a person who is acting out, who has a mental illness, and we need to get out in front of that."

Sheriff Hall says of the new facility, which is set to open in 2018, "Our goal is to bring that person off the streets and treat the illness, and then release them into what is the community health system, where they won’t be a problem for the criminal justice system."

Perhaps it would behoove Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel to look into financing a behavioral health center rather than asking the County Commissioners to approve construction of a new jail.

Image credit: A Health Blog