HARRISONBURG — A mental health pilot program at Rockingham County Jail has exceeded expectations and is now a permanent service.

Ellen Harrison, executive director of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board, provided an update on the program Monday to the Community Criminal Justice Board, an advisory panel of city, county, school, law enforcement and court officials.

The CSB started the program in January 2015 to increase the jail’s mental health resources for inmates. Harrison said the program, in which 648 inmates have been helped as of December, has moved from pilot status to permanent.

“We didn’t realize we would see that,” she said. “It was extremely successful in terms of what we were able to accomplish.”

Before starting the program, the CSB, which provides mental health, intellectual disability and substance abuse services, had a case manager working 10 hours a week and a nurse practitioner at the jail to help inmates prepare for release.

The agency spent $30,000 in one-time funds to install a clinician for 20 hours a week at the facility in downtown Harrisonburg. City Council and the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors later kicked in additional funding to keep the program going.

The clinician joins the nurse practitioner, who works in the jail three hours a week, to provide treatment for mental illness.

Harrison said the city and county contribute $54,000 annually, which allows the clinician to work 40 hours a week.

“This is our community really investing,” she said, adding the hours increased on Jan. 2.

Harrison said of the 648 inmates treated, 55 percent sought out the treatment. The numbers were surprising because the agency expected most of the referrals to come from officers during the intake process.

“We really weren’t sure what the general need was,” she said.

She also said 387 inmates, or 38 percent of those treated, had substance abuse issues.

The clinician helped determine how best to treat the remaining inmates, who had a variety of problems.

The program is one of several the CSB runs at the local jail. The agency also partners with the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and Woodstock-based Strength In Peers to identify inmates with substance abuse issues and help them navigate treatment after release.

Keeping and expanding the mental health program within the jail is “vital,” Harrison said.

“Truly, there are people who are in the jail, just like there are people in our community, who need additional mental health support to lead a basic life,” she said.

Contact Nolan Stout at 574-6278 or nstout@dnronline.com

(1) comment

Neal Frankel

Very positive news and progress for our community.

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