By Daniel J. Gross and Chris Lavender
Seven months after Spartanburg County made a public commitment to reduce the number of inmates with a mental illness, progress has been made in some areas but not in others.
Among the advances, more inmates are being screened for behavioral health issues. In September 2016, the jail began a pilot program with the Spartanburg Area Mental Health Center in which a psychiatrist visited the facility two afternoons a month to evaluate and assess individuals with chronic and persistent mental illness. The psychiatric services have continued beyond the pilot period.
The schedule has allowed a psychiatrist to see about seven to eight people per visit, or about 15 per month.
The program joins an existing one at the jail that brings in a licensed counselor from the state Department of Mental Health and volunteer counselors from West Gate Family Therapy Institute to evaluate inmates.
Spartanburg County agreed take part in the Stepping Up Initiative in a July 2016 resolution. The nationwide effort seeks to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails.
Stepping Up is run by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and other partners that provide counties with resources and expertise on how to implement strategies and track data.
Some of the Stepping Up goals overlap with work already being done by the Spartanburg County Behavioral Health Task Force.
The task force has initiated more than 20 programs to improve access to mental health care, including some that have helped identify more inmates with behavioral health needs in the Spartanburg County jail. Other programs are working to provide post-incarceration support to reduce recidivism rates.
“The detention center has been very involved with the Behavioral Task Force,” said Spartanburg County Administrator Katherine O’Neill.
“The data piece is crucial,” said Kati Habert, the deputy program director at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “The goal of initiative is to reduce the number of people with mental illness that are in the jail. In order to be able to do that, you have to know who is in jail in the first place. Use that information to then plan the best sort of strategies for them and use those numbers to track their progress.”