EBR prison to get second social worker

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A new contract will soon help the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison deal with an increasing number of inmates suffering from mental health disorders.

Warden Lt. Col. Dennis Grimes says the number of those type of inmates has been on the rise since the state closed the Greenwell Springs Mental Hospital in 2012 and Earl K. Long's Mental Health Emergency Room last year.

"The Earl K. Long, the Greenwell Springs, the closure of those beds kind of made an influx of us getting more and more of the mentally ill people, because if you got somebody out there, what else are you going to do with them?" Grimes said.

Capital Area Human Services is finalizing paperwork that will add a second social worker to the facility.

"The social worker will start off with getting to know the person and do an assessment on the level of case management they'll need, and then do a personalized plan. So that when the person is released, there's a plan in place on where that person will go for treatment, whether it's for mental health or substance abuse," said Executive Director Dr. Jan Kasofsky. "They'll help them navigate Medicaid and Social Security, housing applications; whatever they need to not come back to jail."

It may seem like a small step, but Warden Grimes says it should make a difference.

"When you got 1,500 inmates here that are actually on campus and you got another 60 or 70 that are being booked every day, I think one social worker is not going to cover that. Two social workers will give us some coverage," he said.

Human Services is also submitting a grant to get a peer-support person to work one-on-one with inmates while they're incarcerated. Kasofsky says it's similar to a prison inreach program.

"We feel that type of support will really help encourage people to really follow up on appointments upon discharge. We actually in the past two years had a grant similar to this with the Department of Corrections and it's worked very well in that we follow the person after discharge for about six months, and we've seen a high rate of linkage within the community with mental health and addiction services," she said.

Her office will also track the success of the new social worker.

"We'll be collecting outcome information to ensure that we're really achieving what we plan to achieve, that it's not just another person and more hours, but that we actually are able to address the linkage into the community upon release, but more importantly we want to see that we're addressing the re-arrest rate," Kasofsky said.

Grimes says while he's happy to have a second social worker, the permanent solution is to reopen a rapid stabilization unit like EKL's Mental Health Emergency Room.

"Our people are not trained to deal with mental health issues, they're trained to deal with behavioral issues," he said. "If we have somewhere else to take them besides putting them in here, that would be the best solution."

Not only is the prison seeing more inmates with mental health issues, Grimes said those people are also staying longer.

"Because family members don't want them, or they figure they're safer here, but the level of the staff doesn't match that need. We have to get to the point to where we realize that it's not a jail anymore. It's a prison," he said.

The parish provided the funds for the additional social worker, and Kasofsky said that person should be in place within a month, working 20 hours a week alongside the full-time social worker.

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