Joe Arpaio, Mental Health and Harris County Jail

Recent events inside the Maricopa County Jail prompted me to look at other jails nationwide and seek the differences in both the operational aspect of things and the treatment levels of mentally ill inmates incarcerated in our jails and prisons. Not doubting the efforts put forth inside the Maricopa jail, the main reason for concern was recent events that illustrated the level of training and empathy jail personnel demonstrated with a mentally ill inmate that showed their lack of understanding of working inside a mental health wing or ward. Specifically, this act was viewed by the nations as three officers held an inmate down on a table while another one stepped on his neck to “control” his movement and reduce the “threat” he posed to “them.”

What was shown on a website called Corrections One.com was jail surveillance illustrating detention officer misconduct in a November 11, 2010 video. This video released by the Maricopa jail shows this officer stepping on an inmate’s neck and appears to lean on the inmate. Corrections One reports “The video of the assault also shows the officer later punching this inmate in the back of the head four times and kicking him in the leg once. Investigators also said they believe he slammed his head up against a wall in his jail cell, although there is no video evidence of that. Sheridan, a Chief Deputy a the jail, said the inmate did not require medical treatment and didn’t have any apparent neck injuries, although he had some bruising and a cut on his forehead, which investigators believe happened in his jail cell. Another officer, who is shown in the November video slamming the inmate’s head against the table, was not arrested, but the sheriff’s office recommended he also be charged with aggravated assault. Maricopa County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan said Thursday that detention officer resigned on Wednesday following his arrest earlier in the week on aggravated assault and other charges. This inmate was a mentally ill inmate and assigned to the mentally disorder ward. It was obvious these officers lacked the training and the demeanor to work inside such a place.

health unit

Perhaps the sheriff, Joe Arpaio should have one of his chief deputies take a short trip to Texas and visit the Harris County Jail in Houston. This detention facility is the size of two football fields that houses more than 10,000 inmates. The jail is the largest mental institution in the state. Some inmates say it is the best mental health care available to them in Houston, and it costs the county about $27 million a year. Looking at their strong efforts to organize and manage a most difficult task, their online program outline is something for all detention administrators to look at for future short term and long term planning using evidence based methods to treat mentally ill inmates inside a jail.

According to their online brochure the county describes their mental health ward in a narrative that states “In 2006, the Sheriff’s Office invited experts from both the National Institute of Corrections and Advocacy, Inc. to tour our facility and to make recommendations for improving the existing program. Subsequently, we implemented many of their suggestions, and we also implemented new “Best Practices” from other sources. The result of this process was the establishment of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Mental Health Unit. The new unit is a collaborative effort between the Sheriff’s Office, MHMRA, and the Harris County Psychiatric Center, and it represents a new paradigm for the treatment of mental illness within a detention setting.”

“The primary components of the Mental Health Unit may be summarized as the three “P’s:” Personnel, Process, and Plant, with Plant referring to the physical structures that exist within the detention setting.” The Mental Health Unit is supervised by a Lieutenant, and is comprised of several Sergeants and 64 Deputies and Detention Officers, all of whom are specially trained in Mental Health-Crisis Incident Management.” Mental Health Unit staff receive the following training: 1. TCLEOSE Mental Health Peace Officer course (40 hours) 2. Suicide detection and prevention (8 hours) 3. Use of force in the jail setting (16 hours) 4. TCLEOSE Intermediate CIT plus 8 hours of role playing (24 hours) 5. MANDT training (24 hours)

Harris County officials have seen the number of mentally ill inmates multiple in huge numbers which is typical of what is happening all around the country as many state hospitals have shut down and no longer providing treatment as before. Just like in Arizona, Texas lawmakers are considering proposals that would reduce community-based health care services for adults and children and for community mental hospitals. The strained budget will impact jails in a most negative way as the funds for treatment of these special management inmates will be reduced to critical levels that will impact their wellbeing and the community’s ability to manage people with mental disorders and disabilities.

No doubt these budget cuts will jeopardize their ability to implement future projections that include “short and long-term projections include the planned Joint Processing Center with an estimated date of completion in 2011. This facility, which is important to the strategic plan addressing the longer term health care responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Office, will include the construction of a state-of-the-art psychiatric care unit and an enlarged and more capable medical infirmary. Further, planning are underway to determine how the Sheriff’s Office can best contribute in pre- and post- incarceration interventions.

Sheriff Arpaio could appreciate the hard work put forth by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office as it embraces its role as an integral component of the Mental Health Community and strives to be a catalyst for positive change within that community.” Perhaps his staff can do the same once trained properly in the manner prescribed by “best practices.”




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