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Jail Administrator: Medical care money could be spent on mental health, GED

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RICHMOND (WSLS 10) - Local jails are still on the hook for medical bills for conditions inmates had before they were arrested. This, after legislation that would have released jails from that financial obligation died in the General Assembly.

A local jail administrator said some inmates have admitted to breaking the law to receive free health care. He said he would rather spend money on efforts to keep people out of jail.

The Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority's $2.4 million budget for medical costs this year includes mental health services. Administrator Tim Trent would like to spend more money in that area and knows he could if the jail wasn't on the hook for doctor bills for inmate's pre-existing medical conditions.

The jail authority partnered with Horizon Behavioral Health to hire a discharge planner. That person meets with inmates before they're released, to come up with a game plan for their mental health care for after they are released.

The authority operates five jails over a very large geographic area, so there are too many inmates getting out for one discharge planner to handle. The jail also provides inmates with a week's worth of their medication.

"We try to reduce the recidivism number by providing services," said Trent. "I think if you don't provide them services once they get to the end of that seven days and go off their psychotropic medication it's a revolving door. They're going to be back in our jail."

Trent would like to hire another discharge planner. The jail also has two mental health professionals, working with inmates inside. Trent would like to add a third.

Trent said if the jail didn't have to pay for inmate's medical bills for pre-existing conditions, he'd also look at putting more in the budget for GED programs. He said more inmates are taking the GED, which might help them get jobs once they get out and keep them out of jail, but the GED cost has also increased.