Padded jail cell sustains water damage

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 18, 2010

NATCHEZ — Now that one of the two padded cells in the Adams County Jail has water damage, the sheriff’s office’s capacity to deal with Natchez’s mentally ill is limited.

Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said problems with policing the mentally ill have existed since he entered the law enforcement business.

Currently, mentally ill patients who need medical attention are brought to jail on a lunacy charge and held until they can be transferred to the Mississippi State Hospital, the state’s only public psychiatric treatment facility.

ACSO Jail Administrator Charles Harrigill said the state hospital in Whitfield is good and does its best to accommodate the influx of patients around the state, but there are not enough beds.

He said he thinks Natchez could use its own, separate psychiatric facility, because the psychiatric ward at Natchez Regional Medical Center has various limitations. For instance, he said they generally only treat older residents.

Mayfield agreed that the situation for the mentally ill who are not receiving proper treatment is not ideal from a law enforcement point of view.

“(Holding inmates on lunacy charges) is not favorable,” Mayfield said. “We don’t like holding them, but they could be a danger.”

Mayfield said lunacy is an antiquated term that holds a vague meaning, but it stands as the current charge until changes are made.

Harrigill said the amount of patients ACSO books for lunacy varies from zero per month to two to three per week.

Mayfield said he often receives questions about what the lunacy charge entails.

Deputies cannot simply pick up anyone displaying peculiar behavior, Mayfield said.

Nine out of 10 times suspects are picked up at their houses for lunacy after the chancery court orders an arrest. At least two family members have reported suspects as mentally unstable and a danger to themselves or others, Mayfield said.

Harrigill said a judge then makes a decision along with the patient’s family members, the patient’s lawyer, and a psychiatric evaluator at the Southwest Mental Health Center to determine whether to hold the patient in jail until they can be transported to the state hospital or have them released.

Mayfield said in other cases, if several complaints pile up about a person to consider them a nuisance, that person can be held on lunacy charges.

Examples of behavior among the mentally ill include walking into traffic, accosting people on the street, prowling on neighbors’ yards or causing property damage, Mayfield said. In these situations, a person could be harmed by getting hit by a car or arousing others to become physically defensive.

Mayfield said the sheriff’s office has and will work with legislature to improve the method of dealing with the mentally ill. However, until a better plan hatches, the current system remains.

“We can’t leave them on the street,” Mayfield said.

Unless a judge grants release, those in the padded room are hopefully transferred within one or two days, Mayfield said. However, he said when beds are in short supply, they might be held up to one or two weeks.

Until the leak from the sink and water damaged is fixed, space for the mentally ill will be limited at ACSD. Harrigill said the repairs will cost approximately $5,000. Each seven-by-seven-foot padded room, which is built with patented foam material, cost $40,000 to build.

Harrigill said the legal challenges of dealing with the mentally ill are not issues people generally feel comfortable talking about, but the problem exists.

Harrigill said he is not sure how a patient got hold of a pencil, but written on the wall in the padded cell are words from Philippians 4:13 that serve as a motivating factor for change and draw attention to the humanity of mentally ill patients: “I can do all things through God who strengthens me.”