CHATHAM COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - The Chatham County Detention Center is being recognized for doing something no other jail in the country has done. It’s the first in the nation accredited for mental health services by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.
Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher says mental health has been a priority since he was elected, and this recognition shows that commitment.
"We got together and said we need to have some insight on how to do this stuff because we didn't really understand mental health," Wilcher said. "We got the NCCHC to come in and help us. They came in and spent a whole week here with us, went through all of our policies and procedures and what they required and this and that. It took us about six or eight months to get this."
The Detention Center now has a full-time psychiatrist, more counselors, upgraded mental health first aid training, and an improved screening process for those coming into the jail.
The sheriff says this new accreditation ensures they have the right policies and procedures in place to keep both inmates and corrections officers safer, but it makes sure they're spending your tax dollars wisely.
“If they come here and something happens to them, we have something to back us up that we followed the right protocol and we followed the right policy and procedure," Sheriff Wilcher said. "If we become part of a liable lawsuit, we have something to protect us and the taxpayers of this county. Taxpayers of this county are the ones that foot this bill here. My contract with medical is $7.7 million a year just for my medical provider."
As of Wednesday, the sheriff said more than 350 people in the Chatham County Detention Center are prescribed psychotropic drugs, highlighting the ever-growing need for mental health care there.
Sheriff Wilcher still said his end goal is opening a separate mental health facility where people who likely commit misdemeanor crimes because of a mental health issue can be treated, instead of being sent to jail.
“They’re supposed to build us a building somewhere out on the Southside where we can take these type of people who are really not troublemakers,” he said. “They’re just off their medication, and they get into these tizzies. I’m not a jail for [those with] mental health [problems], but by law, I have to take those people, and they have to be treated if they’re in jail.”