Governor again pushing for mental health screenings at jails

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It’s an issue that was highlighted after the death of Jamycheal Mitchell, a mentally ill inmate who died at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail.

Mitchell was arrested after stealing $5 worth of junk food from a 7-Eleven. He later died in jail after losing a significant amount of weight and heart failure. His family pushed for changes at the Capitol this past January.

“My son died in a jail by himself. Nobody knows what his last words were, did he say anything, we don’t know nothing,” said Mitchell’s mother, Sonia Adams.

“We have many people in our jails today who should not be there. Jamycheal Mitchell should never have been in jail. The man had a mental illness and the consequences, starve to death in jail,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe.

The governor originally wanted to invest $4.2 million toward staffing someone at every jail for mental health screenings of incoming inmates. Lawmakers cut the funding citing a lack of money for the positions.

“Our jailers will be the first to tell you they are just plain not equipped or trained to deal with this,” said McAuliffe.

The governor says he’s put $442,000 back into the budget to come up with a standard for jails to screen and assess inmates coming into the jail for a mental illness within 72 hours.

“Before someone goes into jail, should that person be in there. Are they a threat to themselves or to the folks in the jail?” said McAuliffe.

The goal is to analyze the costs and benefits of requiring all jails to assess offenders.

We reached out to local jails for their reaction the governor’s announcement Tuesday.

Richmond’s Sheriff C.T. Woody sent us the following statement:

“Thank you for reaching out to me concerning the Governor’s recent budget announcement appropriating $442,500 in funding to assist local and regional jails in completing a mental health assessment within 72 hours of booking.

I have always been an advocate that the criminal justice system was incarcerating the wrong individuals.  Too many time we see folks who suffer from mental health issues and commit non-violent offenses go to jails as opposed to mental health treatment facilities.  It has been a major issue with how correctional facilities deal with some of the most vulnerable individuals in our communities.

The Governor’s budget announcement is an absolute proper step in the right direction.  It also mitigates the unfunded state mandate of requiring facilities to complete such a critical assessment, but not providing the funding for the hiring of a certified mental health professional to do so.  I am very glad to see our Governor take the necessary budget moves to help our local and regional jails.”

Chesterfield’s Sherriff’s office sent us the following statement:

“The Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office would favor any additional mental health resources in our jail.  We are one of six jurisdictions that recently received a grant from the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to help with mental health issues.  Additional funding would only increase our ability to identify and address the mental health needs of our inmates.”

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