The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday September 23rd

Durham County Jail aims to help inmates with mental illnesses

Durham County Jail worked with the Sheriff’s Department and the Criminal Justice Resource Center to open a Mental Health Pod in the Durham County jail for inmates with severe mental illnesses.  

CJRC Director Gudrun Parmer helped to bring about the addition of the new facility by working with the Durham County Board of Commissioners. 

The Mental Health Pod’s main cost did not lie in construction, but in paying for the new required positions. 

“Ultimately, the Commissioners were committed to finding the money, sometimes it is just a little difficult to work through the process without impacting the tax rate,” she said, referring to the lengthy budgeting process. 

Despite the long discussions that occurred to secure funding, the addition to the jail was approved. The unit is separate from the rest of the inmate population and opened in early October.

“The number of individuals — of people — who end up in our jail who are diagnosed with severe mental health issues continues to rise as a percentage of the overall population,” Parmer said. 

According to a press release by the Sheriff’s department, the pod can hold up to 24 inmates and provides separation from the rest of the jail’s inmates. The jail has already identified 11 male detainees to receive care. 

Five years ago, about 18 percent of the inmate population in the jail were reported to have been diagnosed with severe mental illness; however, in recent years, the number has climbed to 25 percent to 28 percent of the inmate population. 

Not every inmate experiencing mental health problems will go into the unit. 

“Just the cases we feel would be challenged to be able to make it because of their symptoms in regular populations,” said Peter Baker, assistant director at the CJRC. 

Baker, along with other staff, visits the mental health unit daily — even going multiple times if required. 

“If they come in, having not been on their medication for a while, and they’re pretty symptomatic, you want them on the watchful eye and guarded, and not around maybe other inmates who don’t understand what’s going on,” he said. 

Baker, along with the rest of the staff at the mental health unit, are working to eventually have no incidents caused by inmates in the pod. They also want to focus on stabilizing the inmates on proper medications so they're prepared for trials, or a return to the community.

“It (the mental health unit) is kind of progressive,” Parmer said. “It’s very different from how we deal with individuals in the county jail, but it’s realizing that people do stay in jail for extended periods of time, and those with mental illness don’t do so well in the general population.” 

@ColeKordus

city@dailytarheel.com

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