Virginia to Develop New Standards for Mental Health Care in County Jails

Virginia state officials introduced legislation that will write new standards for mental health care in county jails. There has been an increased focus on jails in Virginia after the 2015 death of Jamychael Mitchell in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. Mitchell suffered from severe mental illness and was not transferred to a state hospital as ordered by a judge. The paperwork ordering the transfer had been lost and Mitchell had been held for four months for stealing snacks from a convenience store. A judge signed off on a $3 million settlement between the jail and Mitchell’s family.

Justice Department Report

A 2018 report from the U.S. Justice Department found that medical and mental health care in Virginia jails probably violated the Constitution. The Hampton Roads Regional Jail has been the focus of much of the criticism. The jail has become the dumping ground for most of the sickest inmates in Virginia’s coastal region. The Justice Department report notes that the jail failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care and did not have enough medical staff. The report also took issue with the jail’s use of isolation.

The report proposed legislative reforms to develop better standards in jails. One reform would be to develop a statutory definition of “mental illness.” Another proposed reform would make it easier to prosecute medical providers who abuse or neglect an incapacitated adult. Prosecutors also recommended annual unannounced inspections of local jails.

New Standards

The new standards developed in response to the report include the unannounced annual inspections. Jails would also be required to submit quarterly reports which would be published on the Board of Corrections website. The Board of Corrections is required to work with Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Standards and the Office of the Inspector General to put together comprehensive new standards in writing by November. A work group had already been formed to put together a starting point for standards that would be consistent across the state’s county jails.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

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