Sheriff: Tuscaloosa County Jail leading the state in mental health treatment

Mental health program for Tuscaloosa County Jail
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 8:33 PM CDT
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WBRC) - The Tuscaloosa County sheriff has made an aggressive push in recent years to infuse mental health care in the county jail, a move that’s put the county jail in an unusual position across the state.

Sheriff Ron Abernathy says as far as he knows, the Tuscaloosa County Jail is the only county jail across the state with this kind of mental health program in place.

What we’re talking about here is the staffing. The jail has a psychiatrist visiting twice a week, a psychiatric nurse practitioner visiting twice a week along with a social worker on site five days a week and another social worker visits a half-day five days a week. The sheriff says he foresaw the need for mental health a few years ago and one Tuscaloosa licensed forensics social worker applauds the move.

“A number of years ago when Bryce basically shut down, when you started seeing a number of inmates leave. I mean, at one time I think you had over 5,000 inmates in house at Bryce and now you’re looking at 250 and unfortunately, some of those inmates that got out were not cured,” said Sheriff Ron Abernathy.

“This is significant because the inmates in any kind of jail that have mental health issues typically don’t have any services, very limited services,” said Joanne Terrell, a licensed forensics social worker in Tuscaloosa.

Sheriff Ron Abernathy says the overriding goal is to keep the inmates suffering from mental illness from coming back to the jail. The sheriff estimates about one-third of inmates in jail now are on medications due to mental health challenges.

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