South Carolina judges unite for mental health reform in prisons: A response to the tragic death of a detainee

Every judge in South Carolina met for the first mental health summit today in Columbia.

Authorities met to talk about mental health in the state’s jails and prisons after the death of a Midlands woman who died in the Sumter county jail while awaiting a transfer to a mental facility back in August.

Officials say jails and detention centers are the largest providers of mental health services and with a lack of bed space and properly trained workers, officials say it was time for change.

Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty says our state is spending more money keeping detainee’s with mental health locked up than helping them.

“It costs us more money to jail them than to treat them and it’s a fine time we take a look at that” said Chief Justice Beatty.

Officials say many people who suffer from mental illness experience some form of trauma, and are low risk for offending but putting them into a jail system for only two to three days can increase their chance of committing a crime by 50%.

“A lot of the people they are seeing are people with mental health issues, and if they don’t know how to address those issues we’re just going to perpetuate the problem it’s just going to get bigger and bigger” said Chief Justice Beatty.

Miami-Dade county Judge Steven Leifman, started the mental illness initiative for prisons and jails in Miami and says their process of transferring detainees is efficient.

Hosanna Dinkins died in the Sumter county jail while waiting two months on a transfer. Leifman says their process takes three days after screening and could help here in South Carolina.

“If there is an identification of them having mental illness, they are then seen by a psychiatrist within 24 hours and if they are appropriate for a release, they are then transferred to a treatment provider within three days of their arrest” said Judge Leifman.

Officials say this is just one of many steps in a process to a better system for people with mental illness.

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