Opinion: Lack of Data Turns Jails into Psychiatric Units

USA Today

By Franklin County (OH) Sheriff Dallas Baldwin and Pacific County (WA) Sheriff Scott Johnson

Doctors diagnosed Tiffany Barrett with bipolar disorder in 2004 after she tried to take her own life. But that information failed to reach a critical destination: Ohio’s Franklin County Jail. Instead, she spent the next seven years cycling in and out of the system on charges related to drug addiction.

From the ages of 19 to 26, Barrett struggled to keep her life on track, until finally the county’s justice system established a program that recognized her disorder and used treatment instead of incarceration.

Barrett’s story, as difficult as it was, has a positive ending. Most people with mental illnesses who get caught in U.S. incarceration systems never get the help they need.

That’s because too many county jails either have no standard screenings for mental illness or screenings that are subpar — turning institutions of incarceration into de facto psychiatric units.

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