2016 #MACoCon Panel Tackles the Mental Illness Crisis in Jails

2016 MACo Summer Conference - Mentally Ill & Incarcerated Panel
From L to R: Kathryn Farinholt, Terry Kokolis, Delegate Erek Barron, and Francesca Berger

Attendees to the 2016 MACo Summer Conference confronted the crisis of the mentally ill in jails during the “Mentally Ill and Incarcerated: A Criminal Justice Crisis” panel on August 19.

Anne Arundel County Department of Detention Facilities Superintendent Terry Kokolis outlined the severity and challenges represented by incarcerating the mentally ill. He stated that the mentally ill are overrepresented in corrections population nationwide and often have concurrent substance abuse issues. Kokolis also discussed the liability associated with the jailed mentally ill, including increased chances of suicide and abuse by fellow inmates. He noted that some local jails are unable to have a psychiatrist onsite and have relay on tele-psychiatry – a less than ideal solution.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Maryland Executive Director Kathryn Farinholt explained the demographics of the mentally ill in the prison population, noting that 24% of inmates have a serious mental illness nationwide. She stated that jails are typically the largest mental health facility in a county. She also stressed the cost savings to jails – both in jail bed space and stress and injury to corrections officials – by removing the mentally ill from the jail setting.

Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) Director of Advocacy Francesca Berger explained ways to intervene before the mentally ill enters the law enforcement system and jail. She noted that while people used to be treated in state psychiatric facilities, they are now dispersed through jails, homeless shelters, nursing homes, and other facilities because community treatment options never materialized. She cited a TAC report that found 4 million adults have an untreated severe mental illness and that such individuals are 16 times more likely to be killed when stopped or approached by law enforcement. Berger stress the need for better officer training and pre-crisis diversion through assisted outpatient treatment programs (AOTs). She stated that Maryland and Connecticut are the only two states without at least a pilot AOT or a reasonable alternative.

Maryland Delegate Erek Barron moderated the panel. Siemen’s Industry, Inc. sponsored the panel.