Two local agencies partner up to provide inmates with mental health treatment

September 8, 2018

The local jail and a mental health agency are teaming up in an attempt to provided inmates with quality health treatment while incarcerated.

The Aiken County detention center and Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Center announced their new partnership Thursday. Besides mental health treatment, the partnership will help connect inmates to community-based services upon release to ensure continuity of care with the hope of reducing recidivism rates, according to a release.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill reported that during a mental health crisis, individuals are more likely to have involvement with law enforcement than receive medical help, and, as a result, 2 million people with mental illness are booked in jails each year, the release states.

Jail populations house three to six times as many adults suffering from serious mental illness than the general population and adults with mental illness who go to jail tend to have longer stays, with a higher rate of re-offending than people without mental illness.

A mental health counselor will be imbedded at the Aiken County detention center and that person will provide suicide prevention services, crisis intervention services, mental health screenings and evaluations, and individual treatment to inmates incarcerated at the detention center, officials said.

The counselor will also assist with inpatient mental health needs as deemed necessary and coordinate continued mental health care and linkage with community resources once released.

Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health has employed a nurse practitioner at the jail for 7.5 hours a week to assess psychiatric needs of the inmates served including medication maintenance and effectiveness of prescribed medication.

A peer support specialist will assist inmates in taking responsibility for managing their illness effectively to include recognizing the need for treatment, identifying and using effective coping strategies, developing healthy relationships, developing healthy leisure activities and good decision making.

An entitlement specialist will also be available to help inmates apply for benefits as appropriate and based on eligibility.

“Law enforcement is increasingly relied upon to deal with individuals who are suffering from mental health issues,” said Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt. “We believe this partnership with Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Center is a step in the right direction and hope to combat recidivism in Aiken County.”

Tamara Smith, executive director of Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health, said she is excited to be working with the Aiken County detention center.

“ABMHC’s foundation is built on recovery and the premise that mental health is essential to overall health,” Smith said. “Our goal is to provide safe, effective and evidence-based mental health services to inmates with mental illness to alleviate symptoms, ensure their best level of functioning and prevent relapse and re-incarceration.”

Leaders with both agencies are working to record and track all screenings, assessments and contact information to establish a baseline upon which to measure the increase or decrease of people diagnosed with mental illness who are admitted into the criminal justice system.

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, contact Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Center at 803-641-7700 for assistance.

Learn more about mental illness and the center at state.sc.us/dmh/ab/.

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