Inmates, jail staff benefit from onsite mental health clinician

Buchanan County inmates benefit from an onsite mental health clinician.

Inmates in the Buchanan County Jail have access to a resource that can help improve their mental health.

Jen Gentry, the community liaison for Northwest Missouri with the Family Guidance Center, said the partnership with the local jail allows inmates to seek help for various reasons.

“It could be that they have ongoing mental health issues that they are interested in addressing. Or it could be because the staff has identified that they may benefit from getting some extra support,” Gentry said.

The clinician also is able to perform crisis risk assessments and provide recommendations for treatment.

“She is able to provide that in-house and do crisis risk assessments,” Gentry said. “So being able to assess safety, if someone is suicidal or homicidal, but also being able to assess their mental health symptoms or substance use symptoms and being able to provide that feedback to medical staff so that they are able to make sure they’re addressing those needs, should the inmate choose to do so.”

Buchanan County Sheriff Bill Puett said this not only helps inmates but staff as well.

“Partnerships like this are essential. You have a variety of concerns across the board,” he said. “We have obviously self-harm, chemical dependency issues, stressors. When someone comes into custody, it helps staff deal with individuals who have that and it allows that individual to get through and get into the justice process. The prosecutors and courts can then do their part to resolve the case.”

Inmates are able to have a more consistent treatment with the onsite mental health provider.

“We have seen situations where individuals who are struggling and we have issues of self-harm concerns that have been addressed more efficiently here with this program than having to try to take them to an outside provider and not be able to follow up with the services like our person is able to do here,” Puett said.

Gentry said an onsite clinician has helped bridge the gap for inmates who are transferred between mental-health facilities and the jail.

“When they’re within the jail, a lot of times they are not at the best time of their lives and they are seeking to make some changes for the better,” Gentry said. “To be able to offer an opportunity, that is helping them kind of rehabilitate themselves while they’re there, and not just being focused on the punitive side, is tremendously helpful.”

Another point Gentry shared is that individuals with mental health issues are no more dangerous than the general public. She said many inmates have experienced trauma in their lives that can fuel mental health issues.

“I think that this has afforded us such a great opportunity to partner with Buchanan County in addressing a lot of these things in the jail and really trying to humanize that experience and those struggles and trying to provide them some greater support while they’re there,” Gentry said.

Maykayla Hancock can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @NPNowHancock.

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