COLUMBIA CITY — Mental health of Whitley County Jail inmates was a topic of discussion at last week’s Whitley County Commissioners meeting.
Commissioner George Schrumpf received a report from Recovery Works, an agency that works closely with the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction, which had “depressing” information.
According to Recovery Works, 64 percent of people in local jails are suffering from a serious mental illness and 76 percent struggle with addiction.
At state prisons, 56 percent suffer from a serious mental illness and 74 percent struggle with addiction. In federal prisons, 45 percent have serious mental illness and 64 percent struggle with addiction.
“We’re dumping many of the people with mental problems into our jail system,” Schrumpf said. “The medications in our jail are unreal. There’s inmates the come in with bags of medications and we have to keep track of all of them.”
Schrumpf said about 4.1 percent of the general public suffers from serious mental illness, and 8.4 percent of people in the general public struggle with addiction issues.
“Those are amazing numbers,” Schrumpf said.
The Commissioners said the county pays nearly $200,000 in tax dollars to the Bowen Center to provide mental health services for mental rehabilitation — an expense that’s mandated by state law.
“They just make us sponsor the Bowen Center,” Schrumpf said. “We get no reports from them because of HIPPA. And to me, that’s frustrating.”
The Commissioners didn’t say they were displeased with Bowen, rather, unhappy with state mandates.
“Why do we have to pay Bowen? Why them?,” asked Commissioner Don Amber. “We practically have to beg them to come in once a year to tell us what they’re doing. I think we should sit down with legislatures and ask them to take a look at this.”
Amber said when he began as a commissioner about eight years ago, the county paid the Bowen Center $150,000. Now, its approaching $200,000.
“If it weren’t for things like this, we wouldn’t have to pay as much in county taxes,” Commissioner Tom Western said.
The Commissioners said that many of the jail inmates are repeat offenders.
“The jailers told me that there’s been people who step out of jail after serving their time, and light a joint before they even leave the parking lot,” said Western. “Right in front of the jail they light up another one. It’s frustrating to the people who work in law enforcement and its frustrating to every citizen who has to pay the tax bill.”
Many jail inmates are repeat offenders, and due to that, they are incarcerated for longer periods, and aren’t able to transfer to the work release center.
As of last Monday, the jail had 105 inmates — it was at maximum capacity.
“The jail was built for 105 people. We have to look at what we are going to do in the future,” Schrumpf said. “We have a great community corrections program with beds for 93 people, but with the problems these inmates have, we can’t use those beds.”
The cost of adding on to the jail is $30 million, a cost the Commissioners are not ready to burden the community with.
“We have a new school to pay for — we can’t do both to the taxpayers,” Amber said. “Right now, the school makes more sense than the jail.”
A new Columbia City High School with a price tag of $85 million will begin construction this year.
Another concern with all of the medications the inmates take, is the lack of a full-time nurse on staff.
“It’s a lot of work for the jailers and community corrections employees to administer these medications. It’s something we have to seriously take a look at. If we make a mistake, that’s a big liability,” Schrumpf said.