For better than six years, Summit County Sheriff Drew Alexander has been expressing his concern about the mentally ill who come to his jail. Last week, he made national news when headlines blared that he would no longer house violent mentally ill inmates.
It’s about time.
It’s been clear since the day that Mark D. McCullaugh Jr. died at the jail in 2006 that deputies are poorly equipped to handle violent and mentally ill inmates.
McCullaugh was one such inmate. The county does not need another. As well-trained as deputies are, properly restraining and treating combative mentally ill inmates calls for special treatment.
These inmates need to be treated humanely. A hospital setting offers the proper atmosphere, drugs and staff needed to bring these patients under control.
Unfortunately, there are no mental health facilities around for law enforcement to take these inmates. Even more regrettable is the fact that our local hospitals appear to be the destination for inmates rejected by the jail.
Officers and prosecutors I spoke with think the that Alexander’s policy will not be widely noticed. There are, they tell me, a group of about 75 mentally ill people who have become regulars at the jail. Law enforcement expects two or three of these people to be rejected and sent to a hospital for treatment in any given week.
While the numbers may be small, the problem is large.
These are standard hospitals that police will be taking these violent inmates. They are not mental health facilities. The burden will be great.
Perhaps Alexander should have acted sooner. But even more amazing is that no other sheriff in the country has made a similar move.
But by acting now, Alexander will force the discussioin to the forefront, sparking much-needed collaborative action.
These mentally ill people are our responsibility. And we must act together to ensure their safety as well as the safety of law enforcement, hospital workers and the general public.