County sheriffs tell dire stories of mentally ill held in local jails

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From different communities in different parts of Indiana, two county sheriffs told lawmakers very similar stories about the mentally ill individuals who end up in their jails.

Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers and Franklin County Sheriff Kenneth Murphy were frank in their assessment that the local jails are not equipped to handle the severely mentally ill people who are arrested again and again.

They pointed to the closure of state mental hospitals in the 1980s in favor of privatizing treatment as exasperating the situation. Many of the mentally ill individuals being arrested are not able to get help outside of jail because they have no money or insurance to pay for treatment at a private facility.

“We have become the mental health hospital for the United States,” Murphy said.

The General Assembly’s Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code examined the issue of mental health issues in jails and prisons at its first meeting Sept. 15.

Rep. Jud McMillin, committee chair, explained to the crowded room that the initial meeting was meant to identify and get an overview of the issue. At a later meeting, he said, the committee would craft legislation and make recommendations to the Indiana General Assembly.

Mental health treatment is a key element in the new criminal code legislation that took effect July 1. The legislation is based on the premise that if individuals suffering from mental illness receive proper counseling and medication, they will not commit crimes and, therefore, will stay out of the penal system.

House Enrolled Act 1006, the new criminal code, seeks to put these people in treatment programs in their local communities.  

Both Rogers and Murphy said their communities have few resources to help the mentally ill. They described individuals who exhibited extreme behavior, such as lapping up their own urine from the cell floor and hiding under their bunk bed for days. Some of these people, they explained, have gotten into situations after they were released that resulted in them being shot.

Murphy pointed to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana against the Indiana Department of Correction for holding mentally ill prisoners in isolation in violation of the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. He told the legislative committee at some point the county jails would face similar lawsuits for not providing treatment.

The Franklin County sheriff advocated establishing regional treatment centers funded by the local communities as well as the state to help those with mental health issues.

Peter Bisbecos, former deputy prosecuting attorney for Marion County, suggested another option.

Testifying at the meeting, Bisbecos presented his idea for appointing guardians for the mentally ill. These guardianships would be court ordered and defined by statute for a very limited purpose to ensure the mentally impaired individuals get to the services and the medications they need.

Bisbecos described his idea as a middle ground when having to decide between charging or not charging a mentally ill individual.

Several legislators said they liked the idea and thought it was a good way to address the issue of mental illness.

The committee is scheduled to examine juvenile justice issues at its next meeting Sept. 22 at 9 a.m.



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  1. The voices of the prophets are more on blogs than subway walls these days, Dawn. Here is the voice of one calling out in the wilderness ... against a corrupted judiciary ... that remains corrupt a decade and a half later ... due to, so sadly, the acquiescence of good judges unwilling to shake the forest ... for fear that is not faith ..

  2. So I purchased a vehicle cash from the lot on West Washington in Feb 2017. Since then I found it the vehicle had been declared a total loss and had sat in a salvage yard due to fire. My title does not show any of that. I also have had to put thousands of dollars into repairs because it was not a solid vehicle like they stated. I need to find out how to contact the lawyers on this lawsuit.

  3. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  4. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  5. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.