Mental health help offered to Adams County inmates
NATCHEZ — Adams County inmates will soon receive free mental health services through a pilot program offered by the University of Mississippi School of Psychology and the University of Mississippi Medical Center Psychiatry Department, county officials said.
Ashley B. Batastini, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi School of psychology, received a grant that would provide services to post-convicted inmates, those incarcerated before a trial or those who are out on some sort of leave with the court, said Adams County Justice Court Judge, Eileen Maher.
“This a huge step forward for criminal justice reform in Adams County, and it’s free,” Maher said. “All the county has to do is provide the on-site video conferencing systems. All the counseling services are free to the individuals treated.
“There are many criminal defendants who run afoul of the law due to untreated mental illness and they do not need to be jailed, fined and let loose with no treatment. This is a gift from God, like manna from heaven.”
Maher said a team of psychology graduate students at USM would initially provide 30 direct clinical service hour blocks and may eventually provide more once they have a process in place. Additionally, Maher said UMMC nurse practitioners would be available to provide additional counseling and prescriptive services.
Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said a webcam and television screen would be set up in an isolated and soundproofed section of the Adams County jail, where those receiving treatment would talk one-on-one with USM professionals at no expense to the county.
“The grant would pay for everything,” Patten said. “This is something that we in law enforcement have been battling for some time. When individuals are incarcerated, they lose health benefits from Medicaid, and many lose benefits before they are ever convicted. … They are left without the proper medication that they need, and it puts a strain on the county to supply that medication.
“We’re also allowing people who are already unstable to become even more unstable by not giving them proper treatment. With this program, we could get these people the treatment they need while they are in jail, even if they have a criminal charge, and make sure those who haven’t been charged are mentally stable when they stand trial.”
Patten said Adams County had been selected as one of four pilot counties to test the mental health program due to a large number of inmates who require treatment.
“On average, we have anywhere from 8 to 12 inmates who need this every month, and those are just the ones we know of,” Patten said.
The contract for free mental health service lasts until Dec. 31, 2021, Patten said, after which the program may have collected enough data to be extended.
“We are grateful that (Batastini), USM and UMMC chose Adams County to partner with for this program,” Patten said.