FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Major Lafayette Woods, Jr.
Operation Commander/Public Information Officer
JEFFERSON COUNTY SHERIFF SEEKS HELP TO ADDRESS INCARCERATION RATE OF THE MENTALLY ILL AND VETERANS: Jefferson County, Arkansas – December 18, 2015 – On any given day, an alarming number of detainees at Jefferson County’s W.C. “Dub” Brassell Adult Detention Center suffer from mental illness to include many veterans. The majority of these detainees are in jail for nonviolent offences closely associated with their mental health issues and would be far better served by treatment rather than incarceration.
“Our nation’s jails hold more than 731,000 people on any given day. This year alone at least 70 were incarcerated right here in Jefferson County, said Sheriff Robinson.”
With over 70,000 people, Jefferson County is Arkansas’ 10th most populous county out of 75. For many, jails are out of sight, out of mind. They are places where dangerous people are locked up and kept away from society. While our jail and those similar certainly house many horrifically violent offenders who belong behind bars, that is only a part of this growing problem. Jails including ours have increasingly emerged as dumping grounds for the poor, desperate and mentally ill. Crimes such as breaking into an abandoned home to sleep, stealing candy bars to subdue hunger, buying drugs to self-medicate for mental illness are acts that reflect the need for help, not incarceration.
“There has been recent national and state momentum to finally address mass or unjust incarceration. This is long overdue. Yet we cannot solve the problem before we fully understand the problem. And we cannot understand the problem until we fully comprehend who is in custody and why.
As sheriff, it is my goal to identify mental health professionals and support future legislation that leads my agency in a comprehensive response to the criminalization of mentally ill individuals in Jefferson County, said Sheriff Gerald Robinson.”
Last month, I visited with leaders in the mental health profession along with advocates for changing how the growing problem between the mentally ill and the judicial system is addressed. My goal is not only to identify mental health professionals and support future legislation that leads my agency in a comprehensive response to the criminalization of mentally ill individuals in Jefferson County but to add public information on our website about cases involving the mentally ill in order to bring our broken system into focus.
These are people who have a record of cycling through the jail, often on misdemeanor charges that add up to months behind bars and tens of thousands of dollars in bills to taxpayers, said Sheriff Gerald Robinson.
Our agency has also partnered with the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System’s “Veterans Justice Outreach Program”, whose goal is to ensure access to services for the justice involved eligible Veteran population at risk for homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness and physical health problems.
With help and continued partnerships, we can truly effect change and break the cycle.