Floyd County Jail is partnering with the local National Association on Mental Illness chapter to provide mental health services to their inmates.
The mental health of inmates has been a longstanding concern over the last 10 years, since the closing of Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in 2011.
Thanks to a $5.2 million earmark in the 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package, the sheriff’s office has been able to completely renovate the jail medical wing and begin on the new mental health unit.
Work began in January in block W10 in Side Five. The unit will have approximately 60 beds and house mentally ill inmates and arrestees who are coming down from drugs.
“This way they’ll be housed closer to the medical unit if there’s any complications,” said Maj. Allen Pledger, the jail administrator.
Pledger and Sheriff Dave Roberson are working closely with NAMI Rome President Jim Moore and Program Director Bonnie Moore to set up group therapy and support group discussions for the inmates.
First, they plan to start a NAMI Connection recovery support group.
“We haven’t worked out all the logistics, such as what day and how often, but that’ll be upcoming,” Jim Moore said. “The support group is going to address individual issues that are bugging them that are mental health related, and how to live in recovery following release.”
NAMI Connection meetings usually last about an hour and a half and are facilitated by a “peer” — someone who also struggles with mental illness. They’re still trying to figure out who will lead the support groups when the time comes.
Pledger said local Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups also will be coming in to talk to inmates who struggle with addiction.
All inmates also will go through the jail’s new FREED, Floyd Re-Entry Education and Discharge, program. Pledger said FREED helps inmates readjust to normal life following release with the goal of reducing recidivism.
Offender Unit Manager Jen Cronan explained that they actually have a mental health discharge planner who works with each inmate who is released from the unit.
Before release, the planner works with the offender to make sure they have housing and, if they are unemployed, to get benefits such as food stamps.
“Those benefits stop when they come to jail so we need to work to get them restarted when they leave,” Cronan said.
One of the most important items on the discharge checklist is making sure they have a picture ID so they can go to local facilities such as Highland River Center to keep up with their mental health services.
Construction on the mental health unit is on track to finish sometime in June, according to Pledger.
Block W10 will house the more severe cases and W8 will house arrestees who are inebriated and need to come down from any drugs or alcohol.
“They’ve totally gutted W10 and they’re doing a complete remodel with the mental health beds,” Pledger said. “We’re widening the doors in W9 to meet code and be ready for the less severe cases.”
Block W7 will be used as a space for the support group meetings.