Grand Traverse County Jail Mental Health Services Controversial

Someone forwarded this to me:

If true, Grand Traverse County already has a contract for mental health services in the jail. If that’s the case, what is Community Mental Health providing for the $682,000 that the county/state already pays them?

The contract says that the Mental Health Authority will provide mental health services that are “appropriate” for jail inmates.

The agreement is outdated – it’s from 2003. However, there’s a Michigan law that appears to call for each county to have a similar intercounty agency agreement in place by the year 2014, so presumably, Grand Traverse County has a current one.

Michigan law MCL 330.1207a says that:

Each county must have an interagency agreement to provide mental health treatment for people with serious mental illness who are at risk for:

“Not receiving needed mental health treatment services during a period of incarceration in a county jail.”

The sheriff, the prosecutor, county board, both of the local court chief judges and community mental health must all be party to the agreement.

Per the law, the agreement must address how they plan to help people both before and after they’re charged with a crime. They must address how to screen people and manage cases.

Here’s a good one… The agreement must state “How the program described in subsection (1) will work with county jails.” They must also plan for crisis response.

So…when someone in the jail reaches out for mental health care, and they’re told maybe, if and when the powers that be decide they get it, they can have some mental health care, it’s a pretty clear violation of the law.

Maybe this law exists because people who don’t get the mental health care they need are more likely to commit suicide? I’m not a psychologist, but ya know.

If you’re thinking that it sounds like the mental health service providers could just send the county a bill for whatever amount, the law addresses that, too. The law says that the county only has to pay to the extent that they receive state funds for the same purpose:

“(7) A county is not required to provide funds for the program described in subsection (1). In implementing the provisions of this section, a county is required to expend funds for the program described in subsection (1) only to the extent appropriated annually by the legislature for the program.”

Who’s liable for a failure to provide mental health services to inmates?

So to sum it up, by Michigan law, the community mental health agency is already supposed to be providing mental health services to inmates at an adequate level. But, based on events in the last few years at the jail, and reports from lots of inmates about rather wanton treatment during their time in the jail, it’s pretty obvious that those services have not happened to an appropriate level.

So what then? Where is the money going that the state provides for this purpose? Presumably, it goes to outpatient services if it’s not going to jail inmates. Has the county looked at where it’s going? Have they done an audit? Are we at the point where the county commision and other signatories to the agreement should hold mental health services responsible for failing to provide services that are adequate? What’s the legal standard for the level of services that the mental health service is required to provide under the law? (other than “appropriate” which is what’s called for in the contract). Would it be better to engage in informal and formal attempts to have the mental health services people provide additional jail services rather than appropriate county funds specifically for that purpose? Have all of these discussions happened? How thorough have the discussions been? Did the county consider a breach of contract action before throwing more money at the situation? And why did all of this take so long?

I’m still bothered by Sheriff Bensley’s comment that the jail isn’t a place for someone with mental health problems, as though that absolves him of liability for their safety in his care. “County jails are not the place for people with mental health issues,” he said. What’s your point? Someone with mental illnesses should know better than to commit crimes because they somehow deserve what they get? I’m no neurologist, but it may be impossible for a person with mental illness not to commit a crime. Just going out on a limb, I’m sure most people with mental illnesses would prefer not to have mental illnesses.  And certainly, our laws call for humane treatment of everyone in jail regardless of their mental health.

Judge Rodgers, the Peer Support Specialist and blurred lines

As an aside, retired Judge Rodgers is wrong when he claims that one of the positions, a peer support specialist, would pay $65,000. Rodgers says that’s too much for a “formerly mentally ill felon.” But what Rodgers is ignoring is that it’s salary plus benefits. When you take out the benefits, a plum county health insurance policy and all the other bennies, the salary portion is probably quite small by comparison. So that’s Rodgers saying things he probably knows aren’t true.

However, I agree with his larger point on the issue that a peer support specialist may not be the most appropriate person to be providing mental health services in the jail. Addiction Treatment Services draws way too blurry a line in some cases, too. Glad someone can see the potential problems with a person with their own history providing services in the jail, even if they can’t see it with the drug and alcohol monitoring agency.


I applaud the county for doing something, but did they do the right thing?

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