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Sheriff: Mental health cases overwhelming for Adams County jail

NATCHEZ — Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten approached the Board of Supervisors Tuesday with an ongoing problem that he says requires immediate attention: mental health cases.

Sheriff’s deputies are called to mental health cases when a person who struggles with mental illness becomes a danger to him or herself or to the people around them.

The sheriff’s office picks up the individual and detains them until he or she can receive the help they need or until they can be released back into the community.

The problem, Patten said, is that the jail does not have enough room to properly accommodate for these individuals. People detained by the sheriff’s office are held on a charge of lunacy.

Three people were incarcerated over the holiday weekend on mental health calls, and Patten said a fourth person is awaiting pickup. Right now, however, he simply has no room for them.

“We only have two holding cells, and they’re not specifically for (these kind of cases), but we’ve been filling them up,” he said. “This weekend we had a couple of incidents, all of them involving lunacies. We had some fights occurred, and things like that. I tell you, each of these people had to be restrained by several grown men, and it was happening at the same time.”

Each mental health case must be housed in a cell alone, lest they endanger themselves or others. Patten said the individuals require constant observation and their cells must be specially prepared to keep them from injuring themselves.

As he stood before the supervisors, Patten said a block of unused cells on the third floor exists.

“My solution to this problem, and it is a problem … we need to be able to prepare at least one block of cells up there,” Patten said. “I’m proposing that you all let us get this block up there prepared just for lunacies.”

The renovation of the third-floor cells would provide five additional holding spots for mental health cases, Patten said.

Chancery Clerk Brandi Lewis, who oversees the mental health cases, said the county has multiple such cases each month.

“It varies,” she said. “Some months you have upwards of 15, some months you have five. It’s normally around 10 a month.”

Lewis said in many cases, the family of the individual fears for their safety.

“The reason for the hold is that they’re a danger to themselves and to others,” Lewis said. “Generally, if a family takes that step, it’s a last resort. It’s just to keep them safe.”

District 2 Supervisor David Carter said if the problem is pervasive, perhaps the board should look into finding a new facility to hold the incarcerated individuals.

“It’s like we’re putting a Band-Aid on something that needs stitches,” Carter said. “This is a whole Southwest Mississippi issue.”

Carter asked if more space existed on the third floor for mental health cells, but Patten said there was not.

“I’ll be honest with you, we have outgrown the jail,” Patten said. “There is just no more room. We’ve completely outgrown it.”

Lewis said the problem would be better served by a special facility to hold mental health cases.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a CSU, a crisis stabilization unit,” Lewis said.

A CSU provides treatment for individuals with mental illness without committing them to inpatient care at a psychiatric hospital. In order to become a CSU, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health must certify that the space to house mental health cases meets a list of requirements.

The CSU nearest to Adams County is in Brookhaven.

Perhaps, Lewis said, the shortage of space at the sheriff’s office could be an impetus for the county to become a qualified CSU.

District 1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus said he has spoken with several leaders in surrounding counties about this issue and that they, too, face challenges in accommodating for the mentally ill.

“It something we all need to solve,” Lazarus said. “Somebody needs to be the center, the hub. Somebody needs to step up and take the lead. Adams County could say, ‘Hey, we will be the center for mental health.’”

Carter suggested the supervisors tour the third-floor cell block of the jail and look into converting the former city jail into a specialized lunacy unit.

Patten said much reparation would need to be done to turn the city jail into a CSU, but that it could be a solution to the problem.

Supervisors’ board attorney Scott Slover said until such a facility is created, families should be aware that another option exists for individuals with mental illnesses.

“If it’s an emergency, the family can take them to the emergency room,” Slover said. “The hospital might try to kick them out, but they have to take them. These are people that have mental issues, not criminal issues. We’re putting them in jail, and it’s not right.”

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