Richland Jail panel addresses dealing with mentally ill

brantin@thestate.comApril 30, 2014 

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— Creating special housing for inmates with acute mental illness and increasing training for officers who interact with them were among the key recommendations presented to a Richland County jail committee charged with reviewing operational practices at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.

The recommendations came Wednesday when the County Council ad hoc committee heard the preliminary results of an independent study on the pay, medical services and mental health programs at the detention center.

The study was commissioned last fall and follows the beating of an inmate by a guard in February of last year.

And although the recommendations offered Wednesday by New York-based Pulitzer/Bogard & Associates covered a variety of areas, the bulk of Wednesday’s discussion focused on issues related to the detention of the mentally ill.

"The mental health (aspect) is the most important I think," said Richland County Councilman Kelvin Washington, one of four committee members.

David M. Bogard of Pulitzer/Bogard told the committee that jails and prisons typically house more than 10 times the number of mentally ill patients than do psychiatric centers, adding there are several special challenges connected to that reality. Among those are the need to identify inmates with serious mental illnesses in a timely manner and to house them in close proximity to mental health staff members trained to deal with such issues.

Council member Seth Rose, who is chairing the jail committee, said while Richland County is doing more than most other counties in the state with regard to responding to the needs of mentally ill patients, he thinks there is more that needs to be done.

"I was really impressed with the quality of the study," Rose said.

He added, however, that many local governments are having to deal with the fallout from statewide funding cuts for the mentally ill.

"Mentally ill people are finding their way into our local detention centers," he said.

The study included several other findings and recommendations related to the operations at the detention center including a suggested pay raise at the line and supervisory levels at the jail.

The committee agreed to give the recommendations additional consideration as a group, beginning with the issues related to the mentally ill, before making recommendations to the full council.

Wednesday’s presentation came less than a month after Robin Smith, a former jail guard, was sentenced to two years in a federal prison and ordered to pay more than $27,800 in restitution for the February 2013 beating of Robert Sweeper, a mentally ill man who was in jail on a trespassing charge.

The punishment was reached as part of a plea agreement between Smith, who had 18 years of experience in security and law enforcement, and federal prosecutors who had charged him with violating Sweeper’s civil rights.

After the beating six other guards were terminated because, officials said, they knew about the beating but did not report it.

The detention center has about 800 inmates daily, and about 250 of them – about 30 percent – have mental issues severe enough for them to see mental health professionals each month.

Mentally troubled inmates at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center are a higher percentage of its inmate population than most other large jails in the state, officials said. In 2012, the jail reported 1,900 suicide threats. Of those, 40 inmates attempted suicide. One succeeded.

The jail, surrounded by high fences and barbed wire, is seven miles southeast of Columbia, off Bluff Road on the way to Congaree National Park.

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