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Prisons prepared to care for mentally ill

– A recent study found that a mentally ill person is three times more likely to end up behind bars than in a hospital, a situation that has many county jails unprepared to handle the number of inmates that need care or medication.

But prison is another story, according to an official with the private company that handles mental health care for the Indiana Department of Correction.

Each facility offers various levels of mental health care, which dictates where an inmate might go upon entering prison, according to Jamie Wiles, a psychologist and regional mental health director for Correctional Medical Services.

“We do offer a kind of whole continuum of mental health care,” she said.

Every inmate is given a mental health screening upon entering the system and then receives another health screening every year after that.

There is access to psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health workers, according to Wiles.

Many men who enter prison with severe mental health needs will find themselves at the correctional facility in New Castle, where a unit for those suffering from acute symptoms was opened in 2008.

The unit has about 90 beds with a constantly fluctuating population. Most beds are full, though some are left empty in case space is needed.

A similar unit for women is found at the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis.

“The goal is to treat them and build enough skills to move them into a general population,” Wiles said of the inmates who come to those units.

Plus, when inmates suffering from mental illness leave the Department of Correction, they’re typically given 30 days’ worth of whatever medication might be prescribed to them as well as a prescription for a refill, according to Wiles.

“I think a lot of people don’t know what’s available at the Department of Correction,” she said.

The mental health care in the department, though, came under some fire recently through a lawsuit filed in 2008 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission.

That lawsuit, filed against Commissioner Edwin Buss, claims that some inmates at the New Castle unit were not provided proper care, were kept in isolation for long periods of time and were only allowed a few showers a week.

Buss has denied those claims through court paperwork. The case is still pending.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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