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Commonwealth's Counties

Board of Corrections Considers Mental Health Standards for Local and Regional Jails

Legislation enacted in 2019 directed the State Board of Corrections to establish minimum standards for behavioral health care in local and regional jails, to include requirements for screening and assessment and discharge planning, among other mandates. At the request of VACo and partner organizations, language was added to the legislation during the 2019 General Assembly session requiring the convening of a workgroup to determine the cost of implementing the proposed standards. This workgroup, on which representatives from VACo participated, met last summer and developed a set of recommended standards for consideration by the Board of Corrections. (VACo reported on the workgroup’s discussions in previous editions of County Connections; those articles may be found here and here, respectively.)

Based on a survey of sheriffs and regional jail administrators, the workgroup developed a preliminary cost estimate of $43 million to meet the proposed standards. Language in the 2019 Appropriations Act tasked the Department of Criminal Justice Services, in cooperation with the Compensation Board and the Board of Corrections, with developing cost estimates for compliance with the standards, to include the appropriate share to be provided by the state, and the best mechanism by which the state should provide that funding. This report was originally due June 30, 2020, but VACo has been informed that an extension has been requested in accordance with budget language adopted in April allowing some flexibility in reporting deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board of Corrections discussed the proposed standards on June 24, and will have further discussion at its next meeting, which is scheduled for July 15. In the interim, a small group of Board members will be making revisions to some of the language of the proposed standards. In the Board’s upcoming discussions, it is expected that Board members will decide whether to move forward with the standards under an expedited regulatory process or follow the traditional regulatory schedule.

Standards under consideration may be found at this link and include the following:

  • A general requirement for inmates to have access to mental health care
  • A requirement for jails to have written policies and procedures regarding mental health care services
  • Requirements for mental health-related training for correctional officers
  • Requirements for the timely administration of medications
  • Requirements for screening of all inmates upon intake and assessment of those inmates who screen positive for potential mental health concerns
  • Requirements for monitoring of inmates held in restrictive housing and specifications for required elements for jails’ suicide prevention programs
  • Requirements for coordination and continuity of care, to include discharge planning
  • Requirements for identification and treatment of substance use disorders and the management of intoxication, withdrawal, and overdoses

VACo has consistently maintained that the state needs to improve its support for local and regional jail operations. Per diem payments for care of inmates have not been increased since 2010, when payments for local-responsible inmates were cut in half. As the Board moves through the regulatory process, VACo will continue to advocate for state assistance in meeting these new obligations.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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