Majority of Polk County Inmates Receiving Mental Health Services


By Danielle Danford

Greater than 80 percent of people incarcerated in the Polk County Jail have mental health needs, according to Donna Johnson, Polk County public health nurse, who has worked in the Polk County Jail for 20 years.

“For the people we’re seeing with serious and pervasive mental health issues in the jail setting, methamphetamine is by far the greatest issue that we’re dealing with,” said Johnson.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that the toxic effects of substances can mimic mental illness in ways that can be difficult to distinguish from mental illnesses. Substance-induced mental health disorders involve psychiatric symptoms that are caused by using a substance. People can also have co-occurring mental disorders, where they have a mental illness and a substance use disorder.

Rob Drew, captain of the Polk County Jail, estimates that around 70 percent of the county jail’s inmate population would benefit from some type of mental health care, be it from a counseling session or meeting with a psychologist.

“We have a fairly low number of people that rise to the level of being suicidal, but the number of people that could benefit from general mental health services is very high,” said Drew, who oversees the county’s 160-bed jail. Drew notes that it is difficult to calculate the specific amount of people in jail with mental health needs due to the variation in inmate mental health needs, which aren’t tracked with jail records.

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