Jail opens mental treatment unit

By National Psychologist Staff
May 28, 2018 - Last updated: May 27, 2018

City Jail Roanoke Mental Health UnitsThe city jail in Roanoke, Va., took an innovative step in April to deal with inmates with mental disorders. It transferred four of them into a newly designated mental health unit.

The Roanoke Times quoted Sheriff Tim Allen as saying, “You’ll never be able to turn a jail into a complete treatment center, but this will provide better treatment than what we had before because we’re also setting up what they need once they leave the facility.”

Two areas previously housing general population inmates were transformed into mental health cells, including an area with a 10-person capacity for those who are on suicide watch.

The first four inmates housed in the specialized unit were placed in the neighboring therapeutic area, which also has a 10-person capacity. That unit features inspirational signs that say, “Be proud of who you are and not ashamed of how others see you” and “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”

The layout is designed to encourage inmates to interact with one another as well as serve as a space for activities, counseling and skill-building sessions or therapy. Allen told the Times he’d like family members to visit and participate in treatment.

Each cell in the suicide watch unit will be equipped with a camera, and a dedicated person will monitor the cells at all times from a computer only a few feet away. Previously, there were no cameras for inmates on suicide watch and deputies made scheduled checks on those inmates along with other tasks.

Inmates believed to be good candidates for the program are asked if they would like to participate. No one with a history of violence is permitted.

Seventeen deputies who received specialized mental health training will staff the units, which will offer detailed discharge plans, such as setting inmates up with appointments at mental health service providers and ensuring they have transportation and housing arrangements.

Allen said initially the unit will accommodate only male prisoners, who make up 80 percent of the inmate population, but he hopes to add a unit for women in time.

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