Boone County has formed a coalition of agencies and parts of the government in hopes of providing better mental health services to inmates. Prosecutors, public defenders, judges, county commissioners and public administrators are with the coalition.
The coalition is working with the Missouri Association of Counties as it pushes for state-level support for county jails.
Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson said the county has not worked together to understand how many people have been impacted in terms of mental health.
“We have not worked together across all systems to understand who has been impacted by some of the failures or systemic failures we have in this country with respect to mental health treatment,” Thompson said.
Boone County Prosecutor Roger Johnson said he knows how important mental health is to the community.
“There are a lot of people in jail right now who are waiting for treatment in the mental health department, waiting for evaluation from the mental health department,” Johnson said. “And that has a cost on prison staff because they are not necessarily equipped and trained to deal with the particular challenges they face.”
Thompson said the Missouri County Jail is the largest mental health facility in the county. According to the American Psychological Association, 64% of prison inmates, 54% of state prisoners, and 45% of federal prisoners in the United States have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
In November 2023, there were 297 people in Missouri jails awaiting mental-health evaluations before going to trial. The men were declared incompetent to stand trial, but were waiting for hospital beds to open up to receive treatment.
Johnson said there is a process that happens when a judge orders a person to be evaluated at a state hospital.
“It should have been done in 60 days, but by law it’s supposed to be done in 60 days. But now it’s taking six months or more just to be evaluated,” Johnson said.
The Missouri Association of Counties proposed that lawmakers help create and fund something called a Reentry Navigator to assist people being released from county jail. That navigator will help connect people released from prison with mental health resources, services that will get them into treatment and provide transportation to treatment.