- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Mental health screening has been added for all inmates processed into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison as a way to identify the mentally ill who are crowding into the jail without anywhere else to go.

Capital Area Human Services Executive Director Jan Kasofsky said the agency was forced to identify short-term solutions because of the city’s lack of mental health treatment options, according to The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1OPTZPk ). The agency also has added a social worker and peer support to the jail to help work with those inmates.

The closures of hospitals and emergency rooms that used to treat the mentally ill means that jail is one of the few places left for them, Kasofsky said.

Kasofsky said that until there’s a long-term solution to the lack of care, she is focusing some efforts on the prison’s mentally ill population.

“A lot of issues around mental health are people understanding they have a problem,” she said.

She also noted that the conditions of the prison, parts of which were built in the 1960s, are not conducive to inmates with mental illness. Most of the population stays in barracks-like conditions, with large rooms full of bunk beds.

In addition, the prison sends many prisoners out-of-parish each year because of overcrowding, which eats up millions in local taxpayer dollars.

Kasofsky said the period after mentally ill inmates serve time in jail can be just as concerning. Many inmates leave jail without transportation or a place to go, without phones to confirm doctors’ appointments and without government-issued identification.

“These are your family members and neighbors,” Kasofsky said. “It can be done in a lot better way.”

Going forward, Kasofsky said, the jail needs more social workers and more peer support for inmates with mental illnesses. She also advocated for a stabilization unit for the mentally ill to fill that void in the city-parish.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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