Big State and Local Challenges in Caring for the Incarcerated at #MACoCon

County wardens and NACo health policy advocates discuss the progress and ongoing challenges with the care and rehabilitation of justice-involved communities.

With incarceration rates on the rise in Maryland, a panel of experts came together at the MACo Winter Conference to discuss how county jails are adapting to the growing needs of inmates in our county facilities. At risk of sounding like a broken record, staffing shortages and looming retirements are a real and present threat to corrections infrastructure. But, under these circumstances, correctional facilities have been effectively implementing the state mandated, medication-assisted treatment programs in county facilities across the state. As we heard in the presentations, this was a monumental lift for the locals that began in 2019 and they persisted through the pandemic, facing all the complications that arose but maintaining course.

Unfortunately, in the same breadth, a significant problem was brought to light regarding the behavioral health avenues for inmates who have received a court ordered transfer to a state behavioral health facility. Due to a shortage of beds and medical staff, the required 10-day transfer window is not being met by the state as they are experiencing the same shortages and backlog of outbound transfers back to community care facilities, were shortages also exist. This leaves local correctional facilities and their staff in a situation where they are forced to provide care and medical attention to individuals who’s needs are well beyond the scope of care that can be offered. This creates an unsafe environment for workers and inmates alike, and the stress levels that accompany this situation would certainly not encourage qualified employees to stick around.

The dominoes continue to fall, when these inmates need to be transferred to local hospitals, further exacerbating the emergency room back-ups in Maryland that are well documented as some of the worst in the country. The cost of regular transports and hospital services for these individuals balloons very quickly for local correctional budgets. The major takeaway from this panel was that county facilities are doing their best but this is not even close to the continuum of care that justice-involved individuals require and deserve in the overall role of public safety institutions at the state, local, and community care level.

  • Title: Caring for the Incarcerated: Navigating Rehabilitation and Mental Health Reform
  • Speakers:
    • Mary Ann Thompson, Warden, St. Mary’s County
    • LaMonte Cook, Director, Department of Corrections, Queen Anne’s County
    • Blaire Bryant, Legislative Director – Health, National Association of Counties
  • Moderator: The Honorable James Randy Guy, President, Commissioners of St. Mary’s County

More about MACo’s Winter Conference: