Mental health care a ‘national problem’ says sheriff


Mental health care a 'national problem' says sheriff

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Media captionWATCH THE DOCUMENTARY: What are we going to do about Tyler?

A Mississippi sheriff says the United States has a "national problem" with how it treats mental health patients in the justice system.

Greg Pollan was speaking after an investigation by the BBC and ProPublica into the case of Tyler Haire.

Haire – who had a long history of mental health problems – was in jail for almost four years without trial while waiting to be assessed.

He is now serving a seven-year sentence for stabbing his father's girlfriend.

After committing the crime aged 16, Haire was detained in Calhoun County jail, Mississippi.

He couldn't be tried until his mental health was assessed – which took 1,266 days because of a shortage of hospital beds for pre-trial defendants.

Haire's victim, Shelia Hughes, survived, but lost part of her colon and suffered mental health problems afterwards.

The BBC and ProPublica published their investigation this week.

Image copyright ProPublica/Mike Belleme – Calhoun County jail
Image caption Sheriff Greg Pollan and Tyler Haire, photographed in 2014

In a Facebook post, Sheriff Pollan said: "In law enforcement, we all work cases that have personal impacts on us.

"Through my 30+ year career I have had my fair share of those that you just can't let go of.

"One case that will stick with me long after my career is over is the case of Tyler Haire."

He said that the local court system, including his sheriff's office and the prosecuting district attorney, had tried repeatedly to get Haire a mental health evaluation.

With no outside help, the sheriff's team looked after Haire, giving him comic books and buying him confectionary.

  • How Tyler ended up in jail for years without trial
  • Startling number of mental patients behind bars in US

Sheriff Pollan added: "This case is not and was not unique to Calhoun County.

"It's a state wide problem and it's a national problem that must be addressed."

Dozens of legally innocent inmates are stuck in Mississippi's county jails every year, their trials delayed for months and years because the state is unable to give them a pre-trial mental evaluation.

Image copyright ProPublica/Mike Belleme
Image caption Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield has only 15 mental health beds for defendants awaiting trial

Sheriff Pollan said he was initially "very hesitant" about speaking to reporters about the case.

But in his Facebook post, he urged people to "read the story, watch the video link, and share this with everyone".

After having his mental health evaluated and being declared competent, Haire was sentenced to seven years in prison.

He is now in a state prison, two hours from Calhoun County jail, where he has still not been seen by a psychiatrist.

He is due to be released in late 2018.

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