Twenty-two inmates in Richland County Jail's 56-bed Special Housing Unit have a mental illness according to a report by a criminal justice consulting firm released this April.
The 104 page document was presented to the county council on April 30th highlighting the need for different practices within the jail, including separating mentally ill inmates.
"The study and these experts came back and said we shouldn't be doing that, essentially and that we need to have our own wing particularly to deal with mental health," said council chair Seth Rose. "That's one of the things we asked them to specifically look at."
Other findings include the need for better identification of which inmates suffer from mentally illness. Rose says members were told inmates generally don't admit to having these particular issues for fear of seeming weak to other inmates.
"What we'd want to do is basically have our staff be better trained to identify the mentally ill and how to handle the mentally ill," said Rose. "Really we need to be separating them from the general population."
The study calls for mentally ill inmates to be seen daily rather than weekly as the Special Housing Unit currently allows.
Building space for more beds is listed as a long-term goal, but immediately separating those with mental illnesses in the current facility is a feasible short-term goal.
Rose says the difficult part, however is finding how to fund these changes while the state continues to make budget cuts.
"We're in the midst of being cut by millions of dollars this year by our state legislature who's also had massive cuts to the Department of Mental Health," said Rose. "Now not only do we have to deal with the cuts we're receiving, but we also have to look at how we're going to fund these unexpected things that are arising."
The findings also evaluated the practices regarding inmates placed on suicide watch.
The report says suicidal inmates should be located within the same area as the mentally ill, and adds that if a new area is to be created it should be suicide resistant.
Rose plans to call another meeting in the upcoming weeks to create a plan of action and make recommendations on the county's response. He urges that the study will not go ignored, saying the council will work to make the necessary changes and guarantee the proper treatment of mentally ill patients.