AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission heard a presentation Wednesday from a Bates College student who did her senior thesis on mental illness at the county jail.
Katie Stevenson, who worked in cooperation with the Androscoggin County Jail and Tri-County Mental Health Services, reported her findings and answered several questions from the commissioners for more than 45 minutes about the mental health needs of the inmates.
The Bates senior reviewed four years’ worth of bookings — more than 1,150 bookings representing 686 inmates — beginning in January 2013.
Stevenson preferred to use the term patients instead of inmates “due to the stigmatizing nature of the incarceration and its effect on accessibility of mental health treatment.”
More than 76 percent of the jail population was male and more than 86 percent was white. Only 34 percent of the inmates, though, were serving sentences.
According to her research, more than 70 percent of inmates suffered from a substance-use disorder and/or another mental illness.
One-third of inmates since 2013 suffered from both a substance-use disorder and another mental illness. That number grew to 43 percent for the last six months of 2016.
That creates potential problems when jail guards are trained as corrections officers and not as mental health workers. But Stevenson described a strong desire by jail staff to provide inmates with better care and services.
“Barriers do exist: money, space, staffing,” Stevenson said.
The budget limitations at the county jail prevents 24/7 medical care, access to elevated care and mental health treatment beyond suicide watch, medical detox, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and referrals, she said.
The jail does have an intensive case manager, who does fine work but can only serve up to 60 patients at a time. The current average head count at the jail is 155 inmates, jail Administrator Jeffery Chute said.
While she discovered gaps and minimal coordination among agencies, Stevenson said she sensed improvement among agencies.
“When people are released, they are able to reconnect and find support services,” Stevenson said.
Commissioners and County Administrator Larry Post said they plan to use the report in determining future jail policy.
In other business:
• Commissioners accepted a $36,000 payment from the Risk Pool as a partial payment for their legal fees for the lawsuit filed by the county municipalities against the county. The county had paid more than $80,000 in legal fees during 2016. The Risk Pool had earlier paid the county $15,000 for a total of $51,000.
• The commissioners signed the collective agreement with the union, which provides a step increase and a 1 percent wage increase.
• Unable to hire an information technology director, Post said the county has hired a company to provide an IT technician to work eight hours per week.
Androscoggin County Building in Auburn.