NACo Report: Mental Illness and Medical Conditions in County Jails

Did you know that 64% of jail inmates have a mental illness?

Using an analysis of U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data on the jail population and the results of a 2015 National Association of Counties (NACo) survey of county jails, a recently released NACo report Addressing Mental Illness and Medical Conditions in County Jails,  details this and other findings on the challenges of mental and medical health needs in local jails and the programs jails are offering to reduce and manage these population of inmates.

Protecting public safety and ensuring the health and well-being of residents are essential functions of county governments. County governments own and operate a majority of all jails in the U.S. and spend $70 billion annually on the criminal justice system. Counties balance the pursuit of justice with the strategic management of the jail population and prudent county spending on the corrections system, including for the healthcare of the jail population.

The jail population has complex healthcare needs. Better management of the inmates with mental illnesses and chronic medical conditions may assist counties with reducing the number of people in jail that require medical and mental health treatment. This approach may also reduce costs and better provide for the healthcare needs of this population.

The report included companion county case studies, one of which focused on Montgomery County, Maryland:

In Montgomery County, a lack of community resources coupled with overall reductions in state and local mental health funding has resulted in the jail becoming the default response for individuals requiring mental health residential placement and treatment services. While overall jail intakes have been declining, the number of people assessed for mental health has increased over the years. In addition, the number of mentally and physically ill individuals, and the severity of their illnesses, within jail facilities is growing. The Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (DOCR) estimates that serious and persistent mental illness impacts at least 20 percent of the jail population.

For more information read the full NACo report Addressing Mental Illness and Medical Conditions in County JailsAnd read the companion Montgomery County case study.