Academic journal article Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights

In the Shadow of Sandra Bland: The Importance of Mental Health Screening in U.S. Jails

Academic journal article Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights

In the Shadow of Sandra Bland: The Importance of Mental Health Screening in U.S. Jails

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION.............................................................................90

A. The Purpose of the Jail System.............................................94

B. The Evolution of Mental Health Services in the U.S............95

C. The Criminalization of Drug Use.........................................99

II. MENTAL ILLNESS AND SECURITY IN JAILS................................101

A. Mental Health and Rearrest: The Revolving Door.............104

B. The Costs of Managing Mental Illness Behind Bars..........105

C. The Constitutional Requirements for Providing Mental Health Care in Jails.............................................................106

III. THE JAIL INTAKE PROCESS........................................................108

A. The Purpose of the Intake Process......................................108

B. The Brief Mental Health Screening....................................111

C. Commonly Used Brief Mental Health Screenings in Jail Settings...............................................................................113

1. The Referral Decision Scale (RDS)..............................114

2. Jail Screening Assessment Tool (JSA T)........................115

3. Brief Jail Mental Health Screening (BJMHS)..............116

4. The Correctional Mental Health Screenings: Women (CMHS-W) & Men (CMHS-M).....................................117

IV. WHY LEADERS SHOULD FOCUS ON IMPROVING MENTAL HEALTH SCREENINGS DURING JAIL INTAKES............................119

A. Local Jail Officials Should Begin Using More Accurate Mental Health Screening Tools..........................................120

B. Officials Should Ensure that Screeners are Appropriately Dressed and Trained...........................................................121

C. Jails Should Minimize the Use of Restraints to Respond to Mental Health Crises......................................................122

D. Jails Should Institute 15-Minute Visual Checks for Suicidal and Homicidal Inmates.........................................123

E. Diversion and Treatment Programs Must be Expanded to Take on More Enrollees......................................................124

V. CONCLUSION..............................................................................125

I. INTRODUCTION

The death of Sandra Bland on July 23, 2015, while in the Waller County Jail attracted widespread scrutiny of the jail staffs handling of inmates with mental health issues and to the jail's suicide prevention procedures.1 Bland committed suicide three days after she was arrested and jailed following a routine traffic stop.2 The resulting investigations into her death have revealed that prison staff, among other failures, did not complete a high-fidelity mental health screening process with Bland and failed to follow the minimum suicide prevention standards for jails, raising questions about whether her death could have been prevented.3 While Waller County became a focal point in summer 2015 for the lack of appropriate mental health screenings and services for inmates at intake, other counties in Texas and across the country likely face similar problems that, if left unsolved, will continue to allow more and more preventable deaths in America's jails. Ensuring that the jail intake process is thorough and consistently implemented is paramount in making sure inmates with mental health issues receive proper treatment behind bars and diversion from incarceration when appropriate.4 Improving how jails screen and treat inmates with mental illness will not only save lives, but it will also save taxpayer money by ultimately lowering re-incarceration rates5 and by making more effective use of available mental health and law enforcement resources.6

The shift over the past fifty years from treating individuals with mental illness in state-run hospitals to outpatient, community-based services has steadily increased the number of individuals with mental illness who are incarcerated in local jails. …

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