Breaking News
More () »

Mental health issues becoming more prevalent in Putnam County jail

A Putnam County Sheriff's Office study revealed almost half of its inmate population have mental health conditions. Here's what they're doing to address the concern.

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. — Mental health and crime are seemingly often connected.

Even more often, police are having to deal with mental health situations with inmates. This appears to be noticeable among the cases of inmates at the Putnam County jail.Due to cases being so prevalent, the Putnam County Sheriff's Office recently conducted a study of its own inmate population. It revealed that 45 to 50 percent of inmates in the facility had mental health issues, according to Chief Deputy Joseph Wells.

"I thought it was going to be high, but it was higher than we expected," Wells said. 

Wells says the study also revealed mentally-ill inmates end up re-offending more than the average inmate.

Mental health is also an issue among the homeless, according to Ellen Walden, executive director of the Home Again St. Johns homeless center in St. Augustine.

"Downtown, you’re seeing a lot of transient population and people with severe problems of mental health, untreated mental health problems," said Walden.

The Putnam County Sheriff's Office has implemented some changes to address mental illness at the jail such as doing "immediate comprehensive mental health evaluations within hours of a person entering our facility," Wells said, "so we don’t let the situation continue to deteriorate while they're here."

Also, more mental health professionals are at the Putnam County jail more often. Wells says the agency has hired a full-time mental healthcare provider. 

"He sees the body language, he sees facial expressions and he knows what to look for more than we do," said Wells.

The sheriff’s office is also creating partnerships with organizations such as Patients Not Prisoners who work with families of loved ones who are mentally-ill.

Putnam County and St. Johns County are working together on creating something called a 'mental health court.'

"These courts are very, very treatment based, not punishment based," Wells noted.

Putnam and St. Johns counties are trying to tap into state and federal funds. The goal is to get the mentally-ill help, not handcuffs.

Before You Leave, Check This Out