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Limestone County Jail workers say they're faced with a mental health care crisis

WAAY 31 is continuing to look into major flaws in Alabama‘s criminal justice system.

Posted: Jul 30, 2019 6:30 PM
Updated: Jul 31, 2019 9:05 PM

WAAY 31 is continuing to look into major flaws in Alabama‘s criminal justice system. We traveled to the Limestone County Jail, where workers say they are faced with a mental health care crisis. Registered nurse, Hollye Moss is the medical team administrator for the Limestone County Jail. She says she has a passion for what she does, but says there was no schooling that could have prepared her for the reality of her job.

"We have several here that are my age, in their twenties, who are disoriented. They don't know the year. They don't know where they are half of the time. They hallucinate. I've had some of them draw on windows obscene things. Scream and sing things to me. You never know how to act and you are never expecting it," Moss said.

Of the 272 inmates at the jail, more than 55 of them suffer from some sort of serious mental issue. None of the 55 were on the proper medication before arriving to jail. The Limestone County sheriff said the situation has become even more dire because the resources available to help these people has never been more scarce.

"Alabama has gone from several thousands of beds back in the 70s and 80s for the mentally ill. The last I heard is right now, 100 beds. We have at least 5-6 times less beds available today than what we had in 1982 when I was elected sheriff," Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely said.

The situation the Limestone County Jail is in is echoed in almost every jail in the state. It's an issue that trickles down from major budget cuts to mental health services in the state of Alabama. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Alabama ranks number 2 out of the top 15 states in the nation for mental health budget cutbacks. Alabama cut funding for mental health services by 36 percent from 2009 to 2012. Sgt. Jacki McNatt with the Limestone County Jail says this has created a system where the same group of people get cycled though local jails, because they have no place else to go.

"They're trapped because they can't get the help they need because they're on the criminal side when they need to be going for mental health help. It's a revolving door, so they can never seem to get out of it and get the help they need," McNatt said.

Moss said despite the obstacles, she takes comfort knowing she is making a difference. When we asked her from her perspective what needs to change, she had this to say.

"There needs to be more state-funded facilities, outpatient and inpatient facilities that people can go to, that is income-based or something to that nature to where they can afford to get the mental help that they need," Moss said.

Sheriff Blakely said the Limestone County Jail recently signed a contract with a mental health group that is going to help provide some assistance to inmates. He says by no means will this solve the problem, but it will help direct people to the resources they need when they leave jail.

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