Editorial: County jails no place for the mentally ill

A recent editorial by the Toledo Blade:

The death of Jamesiha Taylor in her cell at the Medical Unit of the Lucas County jail should never have happened. That a woman who suffered from serious mental illness couldn’t get the help she needed speaks to a systemic failure in the system. That failure must be remedied.

While the crimes Ms. Taylor was charged with horrific, a proper diagnosis of her illness, treatment for that illness, and the process of her case through the courts would have served justice. Her death does nothing to promote justice.

What her death should bring is a commitment to make beds available in state psychiatric hospitals and remove a burden from local jails that are ill–suited to helping inmates with severe mental illnesses.

Ms. Taylor was arrested in January on charges that she repeatedly stabbed her two children. A common pleas judge found her incompetent to stand trial and ordered her into the custody of the Northwest Ohio Psychiatric Hospital.

… Why couldn’t she get to a hospital not far away?

There were no beds available. It’s a persistent problem, according to Lucas County Sheriff Mike Navarre. So the county jail is thrust into a role it has no capability to meet.

The psychiatric hospital, too, struggles in its job. It’s the psychiatric facility for 23 counties. The hospital holds 114 beds. It’s not enough. It might not be politically popular to spend funds on inmates with psychiatric problems. Spending those funds to remedy the backlog is the right thing to do.

Ohio is not the only state at fault, it’s a problem in many states. The number of available beds isn’t sufficient for the need. On a local level there is some reason for hope.

… The state of Ohio must assure that inmates with a need for psychiatric treatment at a state facility get into a state hospital promptly for treatment. Those inmates cannot be left to languish in a county jail. County jails shouldn’t be forced into the position of caring for inmates with severe mental illness. Local jails are not trained to care for such inmates and lack the resources to care for those inmates.

Justice means fairness. It is not fair for a person in need of psychiatric help to die in jail because the state can’t provide proper care for such an individual. … — Toledo Blade, April 9.