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How Jails Became The Largest Providers Of Mental Health Care

Nurse Andrea Stonestreet talks with an inmate who has been isolated for threatening to kill himself at the Howard County Criminal Justice Center.

The largest mental health facility in north central Indiana is not a counseling center, a clinic or a hospital—it’s a jail.

Twenty percent of the inmates at the Howard County jail are on medication for mental illness and 40 percent are involved in therapy or counseling.

These are some of the numbers the Kokomo Tribune uncovered in a report on mental health care in Indiana. The first report in the series was published today.

WFIU’s Gretchen Frazee spoke with Kokomo Tribune reporter Carson Gerber by phone to find out more about his report. To listen to the entire interview, click on the link above or read highlights below.

You can also read Gerber’s full article on the Kokomo Tribune’s website.

Frazee: Tell us more about these inmates. What has landed them in jail in the first place?

Gerber: Most of them have committed usually petty crimes, the most recent case was residential entry. Generally they are acting out from their mental illness, they don’t have any criminal intent.

They end up in jail, which often if they are suffering from mental illness is the worst place they could be sent. A lot of clinicians say being in the jail situation, in the scenario of captivity, really aggravates their symptoms.

Frazee: Can you give us some background—how did we get to this point where jails are being forced to provide mental health care?

Gerber: A big part of it is cuts, switching over from big hospitals to these mental health centers. In 2012 Indiana cut more than $24 million or 9 percent from its mental health budget.

I was told in the last 20 years, the number of beds [at state hospitals] have been cut about 60 percent. The people at the Howard County jail told me they are usually waiting a month, sometimes up to three months, to get people into a bed for long-term treatment.

Frazee: How unique is Howard County’s situation to other jails across the state?

Gerber: This is something going on in probably every county jail. No county has access to lots of mental health services. I can’t say specifically it’s a problem in every jail but the jails are usually the biggest mental health facilities in most counties.

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