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Experiences of Consumers with Mental Illnesses and their Families During and after Incarceration in County Jails: Lessons for Policy Change

Melissa R. Floyd, Anna Scheyett, and Jennie Vaughn (2010). Experiences of Consumers with Mental Illnesses and their Families during and after Incarceration in County Jails: Lessons for Policy Change. Journal of Policy Practice, 9(1): 54-64.

Several years ago, the North Carolina Governor’s Advocacy Council for People with Disabilities (NCGACPD) asked the authors, based at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, to describe county jail prisoners with serious mental illness. This article reports on telephone interviews the authors conducted in 2006 with county jail inmates, their families, jail staff, and mental health workers. Jail staff were concerned with overcrowding and the increasingly large number of mentally ill inmates, particularly those who were incarcerated for minor infractions and often for longer stays. While jail staff were aware of the multifaceted needs of mentally ill offenders, they found that local mental health centers were often unhelpful because of billing, workload, and other conflicts. Jail staff believed that hospitalization was better than incarceration. Mental health center staff were concerned with the lack of trained evaluators at the intake, confinement, and release stages of offenders’ incarceration. Family members reported frustrations from arrest through release concerning poor communication, insufficient assessment skills, and inadequate discharge planning. All of those interviewed stressed the importance of knowledge-based, skilled intake and assessment, medical as well as crisis management during confinement, and cohesive transition planning. The authors conclude, “A need exists to conceptualize care of inmates with mental illness at all stages of the incarceration process and to make sure there is uniformity to the process across (North Carolina’s 100) counties.” The authors believe there is strong need for greater family member involvement, more attention given rural areas, and enhanced skills for treatment personnel in county jails as well as in community mental health centers.

For further information, contact Melissa R. Floyd, Ph.D., Department of Social Work, School of Human Environmental Sciences, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 270 Stone Building, Greensboro, NC 27412, (336)334-4073, (email)

Posted Fri, Jan 28 2011 9:02 AM by Tracey Vessels
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