LUBBOCK Texas – May is Mental Health Awareness and Lubbock County Detention Center said they continue to provide mental health resources to inmates with mental illness.

In fact, Sheriff Kelly Rowe, said they offer a 40 hour Crisis Intervention certification program for deputies to learn how to interact and communicate with inmates who have a mental illness. Rowe said the training, along with outside mental health resources are needed.

“Our jails, without a question, have become de facto mental institutions,” said Rowe, “Unfortunately shifts at how we deliver mental health services [that started] back in the 50s has dropped off availability of inpatient mental health care and moved its outpatient mental health care.”

Rowe said as a result, more mentally ill persons are landing in the criminal justice system. Rowe said almost half of the inmates booked into Lubbock County Detention Center have had a mental illness.

“If you have an issue with somebody suffering with a serious mental illness, whether that’s assault, criminal trespass, petty theft, the list can be a number of different things,” said Rowe. “If we don’t have the capability to help them to where they can get appropriate treatment, then the county jails are the only option for them.”

Detention Captain Johnny Jaquess said lack of treatment for the mentally ill creates a unique challenge for deputies to play both a law enforcement role and a role as a mental health provider.

“The problem is that we are expecting our law enforcement to be mental health providers,” said Jaquess, “That is treating the symptoms of the problem but not treating the root of the problem.”

Jaquess said the jail has two validated screening processes. He said the first one aims to ensure inmates are not suicidal or at risk of hurting others.

Mental health professionals from StarCare Specialty Health System provide the secondary screening to diagnose for mental illness and also magistrate notifications notifying magistrates that an inmate has special needs for a qualifying diagnosis.

Sarah Dingus, Forensic Mental Health Director for StarCare at the detention center, said her team also helps with a special pod at the jail that houses inmates with a diagnosed serious mental illness.

“In this pod specifically they’re going to be in classes daily, they’re going to be involved in group and individual sessions with a qualified mental health professional,” said Dingus.