Prince William’s Board of County Supervisors voted unanimously to ratify a $351,909 grant to continue a state-funded mental health pilot program at Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail that aims to reduce recidivism among female inmates who suffer from mentally illness.
The program is part of a statewide effort to address increasing rates of inmates who face such challenges. Nearly 20% of all inmates housed in Virginia’s local jails in 2018 had a mental illness, according to the State Compensation Board, up from 11% reported in 2012.
Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail is one of six in the state that have participated in the pilot program, which was implemented in 2017. It is the only jail that receives specific funding to address the needs of its female inmates, which is where the aid is most needed, officials say.
“We felt this was something missing for our female population,” said Capt. Michael Taylor. “We have a reentry program for our males, so we’re addressing their needs that way. We needed the funding for the female population.”
There are typically around 100 women inmates held at the jail, or about 10% of the total population. Under the pilot program, those inmates are served by two mental health specialists who provide regular mental health screenings, group therapy and individual counseling, as well as re-entry services like housing, job and healthcare assistance when inmates are released.
“If they have mental health needs, we need to address that, and with this grant we were able to get more doctors hours and psychiatrists,” Taylor said. “You can see that they really needed this.”
A report by the State Compensation Board has shown disparities in the mental health of male and female inmates -- 34% of female inmates in Virginia’s local jails were diagnosed with a mental illness in 2018, more than double the percentage of mentally ill male inmates.
Prisoners struggling with mental illness are often segregated from the general population of the jail or placed in isolated cells away from other inmates. Of the 7,852 mentally ill inmates identified in Virginia jails last year, 906 had been housed in isolation, or solitary confinement, according to the state report.
Taylor says the program has been effective in treating inmates’ mental health needs, but it’s still too early to tell whether it has had an impact on recidivism rates in Prince William County. Recidivism studies typically take place over a long period of time, at least three years, and can go on for much longer.
The Prince William Board of Supervisors passed the budget amendment unanimously on Tuesday, July 16. Supervisor Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, said the grant money was having a positive impact on women held at the facility.
"I visited the area of the Adult Detention Center where they were being housed and I was extremely impressed by how they’re preparing people for the date they’re done serving their time,” Anderson said. “I definitely support that. If we don’t invest in preparing them for the outside world, chances are they’ll end up right back there.”
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