New law in Virginia aims to help protect the mentally ill behind bars

April 25, 2017 | By Margaret Kavanagh

Hampton Roads, Va. – Treatment of prisoners in Hampton Roads was put into the limelight after the death of Jamycheal Mitchell that sparked outrage.

The mentally ill 24-year-old died in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail while waiting for a bed at a mental health hospital which was an order by a judge.

But an investigation revealed the court order never made it into the right hands and just sat in file drawer and was discovered five days after his death.

Virginia Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director John Jones said, “We don’t want it to happen again.”

Jones recently explained new laws to about 450 top law enforcement officials in the state including dozens of sheriffs.

The 18th Annual Virginia Sheriffs’ Association Spring Conference and Exhibition was held at the Marriott in downtown Norfolk last week.

At the two day conference, top law enforcement discussed mental illness in jails, security in courthouses and all kinds of other issues that relate to roles for deputies and sheriffs.

Jones said one bill in particular allows sheriffs’ to take more action if an inmate needs to be put into a mental health facility.

When the bill takes effect July 1, sheriffs will not have to wait for a court order to come through before getting an inmate put into mental health facility.

“The bill does a lot to protect those people in jail,” said Jones.

“Our job is life, health, and safety,” said Norfolk Sheriff Joseph Baron, “Understanding those that are in our facility that may have mental health issues is really important.”

“Having a mental health issue is not a crime and if you did not have that mental health issue would you be in jail? And those are some of the things that we have to look at and deal with now and before we didn’t have to do that,” said Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan, “We’re getting better. We’re not where we need to be but we’re getting better.”

The bill was signed by the governor in March.

wtkr.com