Mental Health Care in Virginia's Jails

Jan 14, 2014

More than 6,000 people in Virginia’s local and regional jails are mentally ill according to a new report from Virginia’s Inspector General, but they’re not getting adequate care. 

Sheriffs, who oversee those jails, are begging the legislature for help.

There are about 70 jails in Virginia housing 6,346 people with mental illness, and John Jones, director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, says that can lead to dangerous situations.

“Probably the biggest problem is violence and assaults on jail deputies , and you have to segregate some of the mentally ill folks from the non-mentally ill folks.  You know we have to put them sometimes on suicide watch.  It’s a deplorable situation. “

But there’s little or no money for mental health professionals and medication, so the sheriffs’ association wants lawmakers in Richmond to approve a bill sponsored by State Senator Ryan McDougal.

“It stops building regional jail beds and starts building mental health beds with the same funding formula.”

Under that formula, the state picks up half the tab for building facilities, and communities supply the other half.  The inspector general’s report also complains of poor coordination between jails and community service boards that could provide care once inmates are released.