Sheriff: More mental health care needed for jail

Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Courtesy photo

Mental health issues are on the increase for inmates of the Antrim County Jail, as well as across Michigan, with little help from the state to relieve the problem, according to Antrim County Sheriff Dan Bean.


BELLAIRE – Up to 64 percent of inmates in Michigan's jails suffer from some type of mental illness, according to a recent report from the Governor's office, a statistic that Antrim County Sheriff Dan Bean doesn't dispute.

And he'll be the first to tell you that treatment of inmates with mental illnesses is woefully inadequate.

"We're seeing more and more people coming into our facility with some sort of mental health problem – more than we ever have," Bean said last week. "A lot of them are depressed, or even suicidal.

"We think many of the mental health issues we see in our inmates are driven by opioid drug problems, legal or illegal," the sheriff said. "And many need extended help that's just not widely available."

According to Bean, inmates displaying signs of mental illness are placed in special protective holding cells, where they are watched 24 hours a day until they can be assessed by a counselor from North Country Community Health.

"If they are cleared, they'll go back into the general population. If not; they're held until a place can be found for them in a treatment center or mental health facility.”

But some inmates wait months for that to happen, he continued.

"We had one earlier this year that waited more than four months," Bean said. "There isn't anywhere for them to go anymore up here. Everything in northern Michigan has been closed. We have to wait until room in a facility in southern Michigan opens up, and there aren't very many down there anymore.”

Blaine Koops, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, echoed that frustration.

“It’s to the point where we’re really what I’d call the mental health facilities for the state,” Koops said. “What’s happened is that many of the people who were in facilities were literally tossed out on to the streets when those places were closed down in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Many of those people ended up committing crimes, as well as others who have developed mental health problems since then, and they all end up in county jails."

Koops said that in any given jail throughout Michigan, between 40 and 60 percent of inmates, most of who have committed petty crimes, are on some sort of medicine for mental illness. Around 95 percent of those have substance abuse associated with those crimes, which Koops believes sometimes serves as a form of “self-medicating” to replace the lack of available treatment for mentally ill people.

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