Virginia’s community-based mental health services likely to be reformed

The death of Jamycheal Mitchell, an inmate of the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, Virginia, about a year ago, has evoked some key reformative measures in the state. As many as 10 bills were introduced by the lawmakers directed at reforming the community-based mental health services.

Mitchell was convicted at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail for stealing candy and soda of around $5 worth from a convenience store. Mitchell, who was grappling with schizophrenia and a bipolar disorder had a difficult time in the prison as he lost weight over a period of around three months and finally died on Aug. 19, 2015. He was declared dead due to an abnormal decrease in weight and a cardiac condition.

Mitchell’s family revealed that he had to suffer a lot while in prison. Highlighting revelations from Mitchell’s fellow inmates, Roxanne Adams, Mitchell’s aunt stated that he was continually snubbed and neglected by the jail personnel. She hoped that serious changes would be implemented in the jails so that no other mentally ill young man dies in such a condition behind bars.

The lawmakers stated that the changes proposed would reduce the gaps in the system so that nobody,  suffering from a mental illness, falls through. Portsmouth Senator Louise Lucas, confident of receiving a bipartisan support for this reform, added that it was difficult for a loved one to not get overwhelmed while listening to Mitchell’s fate.

While the exact cause of his death could not be established by the state agency investigations, his family is suing the jail authorities for $60 million dollars for his wrongful death. These accusations, however, have been vehemently denied by the jail personnel.

Court services screen convicts of mental ailments

Seven of the communities at Virginia take a different approach when they come across crimes committed by individuals with mental illnesses. Of these seven communities, Blue Ridge Court Services in Staunton has set an example.

David Pastors, director of the Blue Ridge Court Services visits the jails every morning with his team to interview and screen convicts. If a convict is deemed mentally ill by a panel of legal and medical experts, and if considered viable, he is sent for a 12-month treatment plan.

Upon the successful completion of this yearlong plan, all charges are dismissed against the convict. Pastors added that this plan involves a very strong follow-up in which a person must visit his clinician and probationary officer once a week and must appear before the judge once in two weeks.

State and local government sponsored programs, based on the similar lines, are also expected to be implemented at six more places in Virginia, namely, Henrico, Manassas, Norfolk, Roanoke, Petersburg, and Richmond. This line of action is likely to yield positive response as it doesn’t exert any financial burden on the authorities. Moreover, people opting for this plan are able to rehabilitate with minimum trouble.

Mentally ill convicts need access to treatment

When a mentally ill individual gets convicted, he faces the police officials more than he should be facing the mental health care experts, leading to further deterioration of his health. Once the convict is out of jail, worse follows. With a criminal record, he has a difficult time finding a job, which invariably leads to homelessness, susceptibility to crimes, alcohol, drug addiction, and re-arrest.

Law enforcement officials must have a proper system in place that is able to screen individuals for mental disorders before, during and after their terms in prisons. These individuals should have reasonable access to mental health support, medication and should also be eligible for a health coverage.

In addition, they should also receive extensive rehabilitation care after their release so that they are able to get their lives back on track. To make this possible, it is imperative to educate the jail personnel extensively about mental health disorders and effective communication strategies.

Road to recovery

Virginia has nine mental hospitals caring for 1,400 patients, however, a huge number of mentally ill population (around 13,000) is locked up in Virginia’s prisons. Only recently have the jail personnel started diverting these patients towards mental health support programs to help treat them. Convict or not, people should have access to proper mental health treatments.

If you or your loved one is battling some form of mental disorder, get connected to the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline to learn about the best mental health programs in the U.S. You can also call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online to know more about the finest mental health rehabilitation centers near you.