Mental illness within the Nebraska prison and jail system

People with a mental illness in Nebraska are more likely to end up in jail or prison.

That’s according to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services report.

It also says more than 1 in 4 inmates in prison suffer from a serious mental illness.

It’s a big job for health professionals to try to treat inmates before they walk out the doors and into communities.

"This isn’t a place where it gets better for most people,” Hall County mental health provider Hilary Pederson said.

Being locked up in a jail cell can cause some inmates to feel lonely.

"The main things that we hear are problems with anxiety, depression, addiction, and of course, we have a slew of people that are seriously emotionally disturbed,” said Pederson.

According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness study, 2 million people in the U.S. are booked in jails.

In the jail system, 15% of men and 30% of women in jails have a serious mental health condition.

Hilary Pederson says 20% to 25% of people in Nebraska jails are mentally ill.

"People are booked into the jail. They do a mental health screening with them, so I review all of those and their answers determine if I will meet with them,” Buffalo County outpatient therapist Molly Bomberger said.

Bomberger said in the first 48 hours officers who work in the jail have to watch inmates in case they want to commit suicide.

"The assessments that I use, they include some demographic information such as male is higher risk, age, or married or not,” said Bomberger.

She says there are signs too that include crying, thoughts of death and also past attempts at suicide. The most common trigger she said is alcohol.

"For someone to come into jail in the middle of the night intoxicated and they’re making statements that there suicidal, and the next day that’s passed and sometimes they don’t remember and they share they’re not suicidal so that’s pretty common,” said Bomberger.

Pederson said communicating throughout the jail is always the smart thing to do.

"When the officers do feel or see that something is a little off with an individual, they generally let us know right away with sending us an email or they’ll call us on our phone,” said Pederson.

In Nebraska’s prison system, an NDCS study said 954 inmates, who lived in restricted housing, had a serious mental illness, which included types of depression and bipolar.

Before they are booked into a prison, they go through a screening process.

"When an inmate comes to us to the NDCS we treat them like our patients. So we do an initial screening with our patients and a part of admissions they will get a dental screening, for example they will get a mental health screening,” NDCS health services deputy director Dr. Harbans Deol said.

When inmates ask for help, the department said they will always give them the best help needed.

"When somebody comes into the system, we have the mental health screening and mental health appraisal so we will ask them a series of questions. One of the questions is ‘Are you suicidal?’,” said Deol.

All of the professionals who work in the prison and jail system said they make sure each inmate receives the care they need in order to adjust to the system.