Monroe County sheriff to open new mental health cellblock

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MONROE COUNTY, Ind.-- Monroe County Sheriff Brad Swain hopes his new mental health cellblock will be “groundbreaking” in the treatment of incarcerated inmates struggling with psychiatric issues.

“Something’s got to change,” said Swain whose staff estimates more than 50 percent of the inmates in his jail are suffering from mental health complications. “Every sheriff in the country is burdened with being the mental health care provider for their community.”

The largest mental health residential facility in the Indiana is the Marion County Jail where Sheriff John Layton estimates 600 of his daily inmates are prescribed psychotropic drugs.

“These are local tax dollars that pay for inmate medical,” said Swain. “It doesn’t come from some federal program. When it comes to the day-to-day medical needs it directly comes from the county resident’s property taxes and income taxes.”

Swain plans to expand his in-jail treatment efforts to include more offenders as well as female inmates.

“It's under the philosophy of we need to address recidivism. If we can keep even a small percentage of people from returning there could be significant cost savings on their medical care and hopefully they get on track to a better life.”

Four cells have been outfitted for seven inmates who should begin residing in the cellblock next week.

“We’re hoping we can have more group discussions in this area so that instead of seeing one person for thirty minutes we can see seven people for an hour,” said Jail Commander Col. Sam Crowe. “A lot of times what you’ll see is people will be in jail without any purpose without really getting anything accomplished when they’re in a county jail. When they get out it takes them two to three weeks or maybe longer to get back into programs with mental health. We’re hoping by having this area that this will be a seamless transition from a jail setting where they can walk right out the door.

“We have to try to do something for the inmates who have these type of issues. We just can’t put them in a cell and close the door. We have to manage them while we’re here.”

Swain’s initial $500,000 investment in the reconstructed cellblock would be augmented by future grants and cooperative agreements with community foundations and resources to refer offenders for continued treatment upon release from the jail.

“They may sit here for two or three months waiting for a bed to open up at some facility so we can begin some of that program while they’re here,” said Swain.

The current jail, built 30 years ago, has a 300-bed capacity that Swain said is consistently at capacity, a dilemma shared by other sheriffs across Indiana.

In Indianapolis, the Criminal Justice Planning Council received a briefing Monday afternoon on Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Criminal Justice Reform Plan to construct a new jail and combined courthouse while revamping the way Marion County arrests, incarcerates, treats and adjudicates cases against criminal defendants.