Mentally Ill in Jail Outnumber Those in Hospitals in Virginia

By: Cheryn Stone Email
By: Cheryn Stone Email

October 10, 2007

A report from the State Legislative Study Panel shows of the thousands of mentally ill people in hospitals or jails on a given day, sixty percent were in jails.

Floyd Aylor is the President for the Virginia Association of Regional Jails and the Superintendent at the Central Virginia Regional Jail. He says, "mentally ill should not be housed in jails."

He has seen an increase in the number of mentally ill coming into jail, and he says it's a state wide problem.

"It's not fair to be housing individuals with mental illness in a jail because they are not receiving the proper treatment that they should," Aylor says.

Tom Hafemeister is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Virginia and the Director of Legal Studies at the Institute of Law Psychiatry and Public Policy. He says, "we have dramatically changed our priorities in this country it used to be that we provided institutionally care for individuals with mental health illness, and those were non criminal institutions."

The JLARC study shows in areas of the state, nearby hospital beds for people with mental illnesses do not always exist. It also finds the number of available psychiatric beds in Virginia, is generally adequate.

But to Aylor, it's less than adequate.

Hafemeister says, "one of the problems we are facing though is the mental health system has collapsed in many ways in recent years, there are not as many beds available, and sometimes those beds are not readily available."

For the mentally ill in jail that shouldn't be, Aylor says the only thing they can do is voice their opinion and work to get them a forensic bed.

"We do everything we can with the budget that we have and the funds that we have to take care of the mentally ill the best that we can, but we're not trained professionals in the mental health," Aylor says.

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