Mental health, jail officials team up

Published 3:08 am Saturday, December 2, 2017

New program gives inmates access to therapy, medications

Cuts to mental health care are increasing the populations of county jails across the state. But officials at the Covington County Jail and South Central Mental Health are working together to help get proper treatment for those with mental health needs.

Jail Administrator Alan Syler and Scott Racz have teamed up with SCAMH’s Sandy Flowers and Tommy Wright to soon launch a program that will give inmates in the CCJ who are identified as having mental health needs access to group sessions, as well as mental health medications.

They have been working on the program since March, and the Covington County Commission anted up $15,000 in the jail budget to help fund the program.

Syler said that inmates who need mental health care will be required to utilize the sessions while in the jail and will have continuing care once they re-enter the community.

Syler said that those identified as having mental health needs will be required to continue their care as part of the conditions of their bonds.

In addition to group sessions, there will be life skills and coping skills classes to help inmates learn to adapt to the world around them.

“A lot of them don’t know how to go to a job interview,” Racz said. “They will learn things such as personal hygiene, medicine and money management, and utilization of community resources. All these things will help make them more employable. Several have come to us with no support system and they don’t know how to get a job or go to an interview. If they are able to learn some of these things, they can change their lifestyles. Most of them don’t want the lifestyle they have.”

There will also be crisis intervention at the jail as well.

“We can have someone here immediately in a psych emergency,” Syler said.

Syler said the way it will work is that if the jail nurse recognizes mental health symptoms, she will contact mental health and an evaluation will be performed.

Medicine will be set up through a teledoc, and the inmate will attend the group counseling session.

“All these things will help make them better citizens,” Racz said. “We have a revolving door here.”

Since 2012, the state has closed three psychiatric hospitals and Syler said that they are limited in the number of people that can be sent to the psych unit at Crenshaw Community Hospital in Luverne and the Behavioral Medicine Unit at Southeast Medical Center in Dothan.

That means that the jail sometimes inherits those who were once committed to mental health facilities, or those who are not getting proper mental health care, and consequently make bad decisions that endanger themselves or others, ultimately landing them in the county jail.

“Most are arrested because they aren’t on their meds or they have alcohol and drug abuse issues,” Syler said.

Through the program, Syler and Racz hope to reduce recidivism, which is the tendency of a convicted person to reoffend.

The help won’t stop post-incarceration, either.

There also will be in-home intervention.

“They will help them learn to do things like grocery shopping or clothing shopping,” Syler said. “Help them find an apartment and get furniture and make sure they are taking their medicine and seeing a doctor.”

Syler said they are excited about the program.

“We are hoping it will do well,” he said. “We are hoping that other counties will do something similar. Montgomery County has reduced their recidivism through a similar program.”