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Audrain County lacks mental health court

Audrain County lacks a specialized court for mental health issues, but it’s not clear whether a man with mental health issues accused of killing another inmate in the county jail would have benefitted from such a court.

Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger said Wednesday that the county lacks a mental health court like those in place in Boone and Callaway counties.

According to the website of the 13th Judicial Circuit of Missouri, which covers Boone and Callaway counties, a mental health court is a “treatment court program that uses a team approach to provide mental health and other services to the mentally ill who have been arrested for non-violent offenses.”

The mother of the man accused of killing another Audrain County inmate last week says he had serious mental health issues. Ryan Blair’s mother, Stephanie Ferrell, said her son has drug-induced paranoid schizophrenia.

The Audrain County Sheriff’s Office says Blair killed fellow inmate Michael Eisenhauer by beating him to death last week.

Court documents obtained online show a judge ordered Blair to undergo a mental evaluation earlier this year, an indication that court officials suspected mental health issues.

“He always thinks somebody is watching him,” Ferrell said.

Blair had been jailed on a third-degree assault charge after allegedly attacking a nurse. Blair’s mother said he was in the hospital after a suicide attempt when he attacked the nurse. Third-degree assault is a violent crime, which would have eliminated Blair from consideration for mental health court.

But Blair had been in the Audrain County Jail several times before, and not all of them were for violent offenses. In 2009, he spent 10 days in the jail for possession of marijuana.

Audrain County does have a drug court, but Blair likely would not have qualified because of his mental health issues.

“Drug court programs are designed to address the treatment needs and behaviors of those with moderate to severe substance use disorders and some co-occurring mental health disorders,” Alan Blankenship said in an email to ABC 17 News.

Blankenship is the President of the Missouri Association of Treatment Court Professionals.

“Drug court programs are the most effective criminal justice intervention in our nation’s history for those with substance use and mental health disorders,” he said.

But Blankenship said people with severe mental health issues are often “not clinically appropriate for drug court programs.” This includes Blair.

A June 2017 study by the University of Southern California said about 28 percent of Missouri prison inmates have been previously diagnosed with a serious mental illness. That number is 6 percent higher than the national average of 22 percent, according to the study’s authors.

The study showed 4.8 percent of Missouri inmates were diagnosed with schizophrenia or other psychiatric disorders.

Blair’s mother said that in jail Blair did not receive appropriate treatment for his mental illness because he was off his medication.

ABC 17 News obtained the health care contract between the Audrain County Jail and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc., which the county contracts to provide services for inmates.

According to the contract, “A licensed clinical social worker shall visit the facility each week for up to three hours at the discretion of the sheriff or his designee or as otherwise agreed to by the sheriff and ACH.”

It’s not clear whether the social worker visited the jail as required by the contract or if that person had any interactions with Blair. The Audrain County Sheriff’s Office is not commenting on the case, citing the ongoing investigation by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.

Ferrell said the problem with her son was that she could not afford his medication while he was in jail. He had been off his medication since December at the time of Eisenhauer’s death

According to the Audrain County Inmate Health Services Agreement, “The sheriff shall maintain responsibility for the physical security of the Audrain County Jail and the continuing security of the inmates.”

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