Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mental health clinician added to Indiana jail


TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. -- Recently, the Tippecanoe County jail took steps to get inmates mental health help, but it may not be enough to meet the need.

Catherine Lawhorne's uniform doesn't look like the rest of the jail staff's. She not a corrections officer but a Mental Health Clinician who works in the jail. She counsels inmates on a part-time basis.

"There is so much more that I feel like I could do and that I want to do, but I can't in 15 hours,” said Lawhorne.

Sheriff Tracy Brown said Lawhorne's position began when the jail received a grant from the federal government.

"A significant number of those inmates have a history of mental illness and or addiction problems or are dealing with a co-existing diagnoses,” explained Brown.

Many of the corrections officer also have Crisis Intervention Training or CIT to understand how to better handle inmates with mental illness. They said the training is essential because they spend the most time with inmates.

"Once they are in here, we're dealing with them daily,” said Tippecanoe County Jail Corrections Officer Shaun Pevler.

But even with the added mental health position, there are cracks in the system. Lawhorne deals mostly with inmates who have mild problems like anxiety or depression. Those with more severe mental illness also receive help, but the jail can't accommodate all their needs.

"We do the best we can to manage it and if the inmate appears to be stable … we just keep an eye on it,” said Lawhorne.

An inmate is sent to an emergency care facility if they experience a mental health crisis behind bars. Then they often return to a cell. Sheriff Brown said he is working to expand the mental health clinician position, but a tight budget is an obstacle.

"It is important enough for us we are going to be looking for creative ways to extend her stay here and provide her more hours for our inmate population,” he said.

Sheriff Brown said he hopes to better connect inmates with mental health resources in jail so they don't return.

"There's a very high likelihood that they will return at some point in time in that three year period of time after release,” said Brown.

He believes better mental health services behind bars will help close the revolving door to jail.

The grant for the Tippecanoe County Jail's mental health clinician position only lasts for two and half years. More funding will need to be found by mid-2012 to keep it.