Foremost among the objections to closing mental health facilities like West Central Georgia Regional Hospital is the fact that law enforcement often has no alternative for dealing with mentally ill offenders other than put them in jail.
That’s an ineffective,self-defeating, incredibly expensive and sometimes dangerous course. Paul Morris, R.N., longtime administrator of the clinic at Muscogee County Jail, estimates that roughly one-sixth of the jail population is “severely” mentally ill — clinical depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder. That means that out of the 1,200 prisoners in the jail on any given day, between 180 and 200 suffer from what Morris calls “persistent” mental illness.
Some of these mentally ill people coming into the jail are suicidal; others pose a danger to jail staff and other inmates. Either way, they can’t just be thrown into the jail population.
Morris and others at the local level are trying to do better — to hold prisoners accountable for their crimes, but still address the mental problems that have contributed to their behavior and stand in the way of their recovery and rehabilitation.