The Marion County Sheriff's Office announced Thursday it received a federal grant to address what Sheriff Kerry Forestal called "one of the biggest challenges facing Marion County."
The Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, awarded $653,000 to the sheriff's office to improve services for inmates who struggle with mental health and addiction.
Louis Dezelan, senior policy advisor to the sheriff, said there are about 2,500 inmates in custody on a given day. Nearly 40 percent of them experience some form of mental illness.
“The sheriff, because of the high number of people that are in his custody who are suffering from mental illness, is essentially the biggest mental health caretaker in the state of Indiana,” Dezelan said.
With the new funding, the sheriff's offiice will be able to expand its community partnerships and offer training sessions to help officers understand and identify the symptoms of mental illness. Part of the grant will fund the salary for an enrollment specialist, a key position that helps inmates secure health insurance for their short- and long-term treatment needs.
The sheriff's office currently works with behavioral managers to provide essential services to inmates grappling with mental illness. The managers function like social workers, Dezelan said, and help corrections staff identify and assist those in need.
Dezelan said recognizing the symptoms is the first step to treatment and to preventing future crimes and incarceration.
“We want to keep them out of jail and we want to make sure they get proper care for what they’re suffering,” Dezelan said.
There are several other initiatives in Marion County tailored around mental health and addiction services for the incarcerated. Indianapolis officials are planning to create an Assessment and Intervention Center as part of the planned $20 million Community Justice Campus. The center will open with the campus in 2021 and serve as one avenue for city officials to study the local mental health landscape.
The new grant will be available through September 2022.