Floyd County sheriff candidates Tom Caldwell, Ronnie Kilgo and Dave Roberson discussed mental health and how it relates to crime and the jail system during a virtual forum on Facebook live.
The forum was hosted Tuesday by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Rome chapter and moderated by NAMI member Allison Mitchell.
“NAMI Rome has, since 2006, partnered with law enforcement in a program called ‘CIT’, which is the Crisis Intervention Team,” NAMI member Bonnie Moore said. “We have taught hundreds of law enforcement officers how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to de-escalate a situation, so that, hopefully, we don’t incarcerate, but we get help.”
Mitchell first asked the candidates if inmates with a mental illness are incarcerated longer than those who commit the same crimes and if they agree with the principle.
Caldwell, a former chief deputy at the sheriff’s office, said he does believe that mentally ill inmates are incarcerated for longer periods of time, based on statistics.
“On average, 20% of jail inmates have a serious mental illness,” Caldwell said. “And I believe that number is actually higher in Floyd County because we have a community background with Northwest (Georgia) Regional Hospital and other hospitals in the surrounding areas having used us as a hub for treatment.”
He described the jail as having become a “de facto mental health facility” since 2011, when the state hospital shut down.
“I believe that, most of the time, they’re in jail and they’re not getting any better while they’re in jail,” Caldwell said.
Kilgo, a reserve deputy captain in the sheriff’s office, said most of the people with mental illness coming into the jail come from low income backgrounds and don’t have a support system or a family to help them get back on their feet.
“They’re all alone most of the time and they don’t have anybody to pay a bonding company to pay their bond, like most other people do,” Kilgo said. “They just don’t have the support.”
He went on to say that, most of the time, these people have committed misdemeanor type crimes, but struggle to go to their court date or pay their bond.
“I think it’s something we need to take a hard look at and that’s what I intend to do,” Kilgo said.
Roberson, a major at the FCSO, agreed that those without family support systems remain in jail longer.
“I think people tend to forget that the family takes a lot of the burden and stress that goes along with someone with mental illness,” Roberson said. “We need to make sure we keep them in mind as well.”
Those that commit more serious crimes may have to go through mental health competency testing, which takes many months, Roberson said.
“I believe the trends that occur mostly in the community are misdemeanor, lower level crimes. But they vary, depending on the stress levels and crisis they’re in” Roberson said.
He also credited the specialized training they’ve implemented as a tool to help officers de-escalate situations involving those with mental illness, but “sometimes people have to go to jail.”
The candidates also touched on the intake process, collaborating with local law enforcement agencies and mental health services at the Floyd County Jail.
To watch the whole forum, go to the NAMI Rome, GA Facebook page and go to videos.