About 7% of Troup County jail’s inmates currently deal with mental illness; HB 1013 could help them

Published 10:30 am Thursday, February 10, 2022

The recently introduced Georgia House Bill 1013 has the potential to reshape the state’s health care system. This includes how mental health is addressed in the state’s county jail and prison populations.

Stewart Smith with the Troup County Sheriff’s Office said that the jail has an estimated 530 inmates. Through talks with the jail’s medical staff, he found that 30 to 40 inmates under mental health care in some capacity. The jail has a 24-hour medical unit that addresses inmates’ mental health and other medical needs.

“They’re given psychiatric visits by contracted services through our medical units,” he said. “In terms of medicine, it depends on what that inmates require. We also work with our mental health corps in Troup County … and we have services through Pathways.”

The most recent research report from the Treatment Advocacy Center found that approximately 20% of inmates in jails and 15% of inmates in state prisons are now estimated to have a serious mental illness. The study noted that in 2016 alone, Los Angeles County Jail, Chicago’s Cook County Jail and New York’s Riker’s Island Jail each “hold more mentally ill inmates than any remaining psychiatric hospital in the United States.”

House Bill 1013 aims to expand Georgians’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of mental health professionals in the state, require insurance companies to cover mental health on the same level physical health is covered and give assistance to first responders when they are called into a mental health crisis.

Georgia’s House Speaker David Ralston introduced the bill late last month. The bill is based on a series of recommendations from the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission.

Section 3 of the 74-page document notes law enforcement would be allowed to bring in a mentally ill individual to receive treatment if they are evaluated to be at risk. Currently, police officers in Georgia are not allowed to take in mentally ill individuals unless they commit a crime, as noted by the Georgia Code Title 37.

The bill has the potential to decriminalize mental illness by allowing officers to transfer a person exhibiting mental illness to the nearest emergency facility for examination. If the person is committing a penal offense, the officer does not have to press charges against the person prior to taking the person to a medical facility.

For Troup County, the nearest mental health medical facility is in Newnan. Troup County Sheriff’s Department officers are primarily in charge of transferring inmates to in and out-of-county jail facilities. This is also true in terms of transferring individuals who have been given a mental health medical diagnosis to the available out-of-town medical facilities, a process that takes a lot of manpower and time, Smith said. He hopes that the bill’s passing could potentially introduce more mental health resources, including a possible facility, closer to the county.

“It would certainly save on manpower and hours because a mental health transport can be a four-hour round trip,” Smith said.