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More Than 4,000 Mentally Ill People Are Inmates In North Carolina’s Prisons

Photo: Death row inmates are housed at Central Prison in Raleigh. No executions have been carried out in North Carolina since 2006.
North Carolina Department of Public Safety

About 12 percent of the inmates in North Carolina's prisons are mentally ill, state prisons administrators told lawmakers at a hearing this week.

Administrators, including David Guice, the commissioner for the state Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, said the they're starting a re-structuring of how they handle the roughly 4,600 mentally ill inmates. They're beginning to concentrate transfer some inmates and concentrate some services in some locations - instead of having them spread among the roughly 37,000 inmate population throughout the system's 56 facilities.

Guice was presenting Thursday at the request of state senators and representatives on a public safety pannel, but he took the opportunity to highlight some of the prison's needs for mental health services:

  • $16 million for 308 new employees to manage mentally ill inmates
  • $1.4 million to upgrade to electronic medical record keeping; some facilities are currently kept on paper
  • Funding for 72 beds for mentally ill patients at Central Prison in Raleigh; 144 are currently operational and 72 are not in use given budget cuts, said Terri Cartlett, the prison division's deputy director of health services.
  • Funding for 76 probation officers specializing parolees diagnosed with mental illness

Lawmakers said they wanted to get a picture for mental health issues in state corrections. But getting a clear picture was difficult at least in part because jails, which are administered by counties, don't uniformly track mental illness or substance abuse, said Eddie Caldwell, the general counsel for the North Carolina Sheriffs Association.
Sen. Buck Newton (R-Nash), co-chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee On Justice And Public Safety, said lawmakers may introduce bills in the long legislative session in the spring addressing mental health issues in prisons, but he doesn't expect comprehensive legislation next year.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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