Boone County leaders said their jail is overcrowded, and part of the problem, officials are locking up too many inmates with mental health issues.
Boone County Commissioner, Janet Thompson, just got back from Washington D.C. As part of the National Association of Counties, Thompson talked to other commissioners about the growing inmate population with mental health issues.
“Do we build bigger jails? Is that the best way to approach this? Or is there some other answer to this population and the issues that we’re seeing?” said Thompson.
When it comes to inmates with mental health issues, the Boone County jail falls in line with national averages. Around one-third of the jail population suffers from mental illness. In many cases, those inmates end up staying longer and have a higher recidivism rate. Consequently, the Boone County jail is overcrowded. So much so, the county pays other counties to house inmates.
“We have to maintain the health and safety of our community, but at the same times, recognize that the jail might not be the best place for a substantial number of people that we’re talking about that are currently housed there,” said Thompson.
Thompson said the solution is to work smarter, using the resources the county already has available.
“Is there something that we can do that’s better for that person? Better for our community? Better utilization of resources? Because quite honestly, building a bigger jail is not the answer,” said Thompson.
Boone County is looking at a program used in Johnson County Iowa. The county brings together several departments from the court and correctional system. The group evaluates each case for mental health issues. Using this model, the Johnson County jail has gone from overcrowed to at-capacity in the past few years.