Roanoke City Jail unveils new way to address inmates' mental health

Jail has specialized pod to help inmates dealing with mental health issues

ROANOKE, Va. – Monday the Roanoke City Jail unveiled a new way to help inmates dealing with mental health issues.

Sheriff Tim Allen said there are currently more than 500 inmates in the jail. He said about half of them are dealing with mental health issues.

"It's a national problem," Allen said. "Institutions have closed down in our state, certainly, but all across the country it has left people who really need therapeutic treatment to have to come into facilities such as this."

The Roanoke Sheriff's Office has created a specialized pod to help inmates managing mental health issues. Half of the pod offers a therapeutic approach.
"What we're trying to do is just create an outlet and come in here and play games or watch TV, and it really gives them a way to calm down and de-escalate," said Major David Bell, chief deputy sheriff.

The cells in the other half of the pod are for crisis cases, such as inmates on suicide watch.

"This really helps us to organize and address the needs of those people right here with some direct supervision which is brand new for our jail," said Daphne Norman, the jail's director of nursing.

The direct supervision will happen courtesy of a specially trained deputy who will be at a monitoring station within the pod. The station is equipped with iPads.

"As someone's walking around the unit, they can still keep tabs on what's going on in the individual cells," Bell said.

The goal is to help inmates manage their mental health issues while they're in jail, and then seek treatment once they're released with the support of community partners.

"What we hope to do is really closely link those people with the available providers in the community to make sure they know, somebody is waiting for you," Norman said.

"What we're trying to do is re-integrate them into society," Bell said.

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