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Durham County Jail Plans To Improve Mental Health Services

Durham County Jail
Laura Candler

The Durham County Sheriff's office has received more than $275,000 in federal and local funding to improve mental health services for inmates at the Durham County Detention Facility. The U.S. Department of Justice has provided a $228,000 grant and Durham County has provided around $50,000 in matching funds. The sheriff's office says it will use the funds to train staff in mental health first aid and digitize the process of identifying mental health issues.

Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center Director Gudrun Parmer said in current practice, when inmates come into the detention center, they fill out a brief mental health questionnaire on paper.

"We are concerned that we miss a lot of individuals based on the screening tool," Gudrun said. The digital process, she said, will be more thorough than the paper questionnaire.

"And so we are hoping just to have a much better sense of who is in the facility and then to provide better services," she said.

The funds will also help the jail build a "mental health pod" for 24 inmates with the greatest need.

"Instead of being spread out all through the facility, they will now be in a more central area where they can get services and assistance," Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said.

Andrews said his office has been working for several years on a grant to improve mental health services at the jail. On average, around 100 of the jail's nearly 500 inmates are referred to mental health services for medication and diagnosed with having severe mental illness, according to sheriff's officials. 

"It seems like it's an ever-growing population," Andrews said.

The jail has been the target of community protests over inmate treatment and jail conditions following the death of an inmate in January. The National Institute of Corrections conducted an operational review of the jail, at the sheriff's request. One of the institute's 33 recommendations was to house inmates with mental health issues in one area.

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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