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Federal official suggests changes at McLean County Jail

Fri, 07 Dec 2012 17:32:47 CST
By: Lee Strubinger

A federal official says McLean County's Jail needs to change the way it cares for mentally ill inmates. Workers now house that kind of person in booking area holding cells because that's the only place guards can observe inmates at all times. Kenneth Ray of the National Institute of Corrections says the situation could open the door to lawsuits. He says inmate privacy is a concern. Ray says the booking area is not the type of housing mentally ill inmates need.

"It can be an environment where the environmental stimulus is controlled so the lighting never goes off in booking. So you have those stressors. You are also exposed constantly to various sounds noises and people that are coming in and out of the booking process all the time. You really can't have any good cell side private conversations with your clinical person."

Ray says these conditions can distress mentally ill inmates. The number of mentally ill inmates has grown substantially in recent months as state care facilities have closed, releasing the ill to their home communities. Apart from facilities for the mentally ill, Ray says general jail operations are above average. He recommends extending registered nurse hours, increasing hours for staff with training in care of the mentally ill, and implementing an electronic medical record system.

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