The Tragic State of Mental Health Treatment in Mississippi Jails
Mississippi has a disturbingly high number of people with mental health and substance abuse disorders who are jailed without being charged with any crime. County jails are responsible for housing these individuals who are awaiting court-ordered psychiatric treatment. Shockingly, only one jail in the entire state is in compliance with the certification standards mandated by law. As a result, more than 800 people were incarcerated in uncertified facilities between July 2022 and June 2023, according to state data.
The Certification Law
Fourteen years ago, Mississippi passed a law requiring county jails to be certified by the state if they held people awaiting court-ordered psychiatric treatment. However, most counties have failed to comply with these standards as there is no funding provided to help them, nor penalties for failing to follow the regulations. In fact, the state attorney general’s office recently concluded that Mississippi’s Department of Mental Health is required to certify the facilities where people are held after judges have ordered them into treatment.
Lack of Funding and Oversight
Despite the certification law, Mississippi jails remain uncertified and subject to no statewide health or safety standards. Many individuals awaiting treatment are treated like criminal defendants and receive minimal medical care, with some even being denied access to prescribed psychiatric medications. To become certified, a jail must offer on-call crisis care by a physician or psychiatric nurse practitioner, supply medications, and have staff trained in crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Detainees going through the commitment process must be housed separately from people charged with crimes in rooms free of fixtures that may lead to self-harm. However, many county officials were not even aware of these requirements until recently, despite their routine practice
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