Health and Family Services Cabinet
Telephonic Triage Service Provides Assistance for Kentucky Jails
In July 2005, the Department for Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services (MHMR) in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services launched an innovative jail triage program to enhance county jailers’ capabilities in assessing mental health conditions of inmates.
Since then, the Kentucky Telephonic Behavioral Health Triage Service has become a great success story, providing an effective mechanism to recognize at-risk inmates and connect them with a mental health professional within three hours of the first noticeable warning signs. The program already has cut the number of suicides in Kentucky jails dramatically and provided a much-needed support system for jailers.
“This is the first time there has ever been a funding stream to provide mental health services in jails,” said John M. Burt, Ed.D., MHMR commissioner. “The success rate this program already is exhibiting is outstanding and we’re optimistic the trend will continue as we expand the program throughout the state. The work of legislators, MHMR staff, mental health counselors and the many jailers and county personnel who have put this program together is to be commended.”
The program is funded by court costs that were increased during the 2004 General Assembly under legislation sponsored by Sen. Dan Kelly, R-Springfield. House Bill 67 amended KRS 210.365 to raise fees by $5, generating $2.5 million for MHMR to establish the program.
“It’s exciting to see so many jails are taking advantage of this service. It’s had such a tremendous impact on reducing the number of potential suicides in Kentucky jails,” said Kelly. “We all look forward to the day when there are no suicides in Kentucky jails.”
Suicide had become a major problem in Kentucky jails, which often did not have the resources to properly recognize or respond to inmates’ mental health needs. According to statistics starting in 2002, 17 suicides occurred in county jails over a 30-month period. Only one suicide has occurred in a participating jail since the network was implemented.
“With the network, we’ve been able to build stronger working relationships among our Mental Health and Mental Retardation Boards, county jails, local law enforcement and other stakeholders,” said Rita Ruggles, MHMR program administrator. “This, in turn, has provided better care for jail inmates in Kentucky, particularly in smaller jails that often lack access to mental health professionals.”
Strictly voluntary, the service is free and provides a 24-hour help line of qualified mental health professionals who use a risk assessment instrument to screen for mental health emergencies such as suicide risks, substance abuse, brain injuries and mental retardation. If necessary, the network puts jailers in contact with an area mental health counselor who will come to the jail to further assess the situation.
Since its inception, the program has grown dramatically and is now used in 60 of the 80 county jails in the commonwealth. Additionally, 5,270 calls have been placed to the hotline.
“It’s just been exciting to see this grow the way it has,” said Donna Hillman, director of the Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “Prior to the network, the outlets for jailers to have an inmate assessed were limited and were often not readily available. This triage system has assisted in building supportive relationships and networks for a faster response.”
Retired jailer and corrections consultant Ray Sabbatine and Connie Milligan of the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board worked closely with MHMR staff to develop and initiate the program.
Triage services can be accessed by jailers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can be accessed at any point during an inmate’s time in jail, including booking and classification.
For more information about the service, contact Hillman or Ruggles at (502) 564-4456.