The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Mentally ill behind bars

This was an article I found in the Springfield News-Leader.  It eloquently portrays the tasks facing the prison system in Missouri.  It is almost as if the prison system has become the “new” mental health system.

This trend is continuing at an alarming rate.  Prison is not equipped to help mentally ill people.  There is no treatment except medications there.  They have no one to help them hook up with services when they are released.  Granted, there are many mentally ill people in prison who need to be because they are too dangerous to leave unattended in the population.  But the majority of the mental patients in our jails have been unlucky enough to have fallen through the cracks of a seriously cracked mental health system.

Please read this entire article, even though it is long.  It is worth the time and effort and will give you some insight into what the prison employees are having to deal with daily without any prior or special education.


Melissa Ussery, mental health coordinator at the Greene County Jail, interviews an inmate. / Bob Linder / News-Leader


Written by
Jess Rollins
Missouri State Hospital No. 3 at Nevada, shown in May 1925, housed 1,200 at its peak. / File photo, 1925


A slender young man in glasses sits at a small plastic table in the observation wing of the Greene County Jail.

Across from him, Melissa Ussery, mental health coordinator at the jail, asks if he is doing better.

Last week, he surprised Ussery by handing her something in a handkerchief. He had pulled out all 10 of his toenails.

“I’m actually content now. I’ve just been in there reading,” he says, pointing to his cell.

A few questions later, Ussery asks how often he thinks of harming himself or hurting guards. He says he wouldn’t but he sometimes has “the urge to do it all over again.”

This young man, who has borderline personality disorder, is one of about 50 inmates in the jail at any given time diagnosed with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar or major depression.

Many involved in the area’s mental health system say the Greene County Jail has become the largest mental health care facility in southwest Missouri — the de facto mental hospital.

Meanwhile, the cost to house someone with a mental illness is nearly double the cost of housing a healthy inmate. According to officials and advocates, it’s an expensive, frustrating, dangerous problem.

Although mentally ill inmates receive some services in jail, they are often released without a path to continue treatment. With what many perceive as a lack of community resources, the cycle continues.

As cuts to programs for those most at risk persist, many see no end in sight.

Nowhere else to go

Every day, Ussery, the only licensed psychologist at the jail, makes her rounds.

In the female pod, Ussery talks to a young woman with straight blond hair.

“Have you thought of hurting yourself?”

“Are you seeing anything?”

“What year is it?”

At each question, the young woman pauses. She looks to the left, then to the ceiling, to the right, back to the left.

“We think she is hearing voices,” Ussery explains later.

The long pauses and wandering eyes are a type of screening of what the woman hears, according to Ussery; that’s common among those diagnosed with schizophrenia…[read more]

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October 21, 2011 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Mentally ill behind bars ( […]

    Pingback by Welcome to the new and improved Mental Health Minute Blog | The Mental Health Minute | October 22, 2011 | Reply

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