Exclusive: Handcuffed by Mental Illness, part 2

Mike Mickle goes behind bars for in-depth look at mental illness left untreated

Many times, they hear voices. 

Other times, they take dramatic and dangerous steps to remove their inner pain. 

And then there are the moments when mentally ill inmates literally spread disturbing messages using the only weapon they can find: their own feces.

We are inside the special management unit of the Scott County Jail. 

It's an area where the inmates and guards sometimes feel handcuffed by mental illness. 

When asked how many in the unit he would classify as having a mental illness Scott County Sheriff Tim Lane responded, "In this particular housing unit probably most of them, maybe all of them."

We are inside a unit of the Scott County Jail that few people have seen. 

This is a look inside the walls of a section that holds prisoners who are in desperate need of help from mental health experts, forcing guards to attempt to diagnose and offer help for those who, in some cases, are criminally insane. It's a job these men and women are not trained to do. 

"They do not play a role whatsoever in diagnosing somebody's mental health," Lane said. "We have individuals that come into the jail three times a week, professionals that come into the jail three times a week and try to help some of these individuals through this program. It's challenging, no doubt about it." 

For these guards, this is a daily occurrence, one that can be challenging emotionally and physically.

When asked why a man repeatedly banging his head on his cell door several times isn't in a hospital, Lane said it was hard to know.

"Without knowing his specific issue, it's hard to say," Lane said. "We don't know that he might have otherwise been compliant up to this point. But part of that is up to the courts and his attorney to determine what he actually needs."

Lane said many times the inmate is no more compliant upon his or her return to the cell. There are fewer women than men with mental illnesses occupying cells inside the Scott County Jail, but they still pose a problem for guards and a danger to themselves.

The problem is just as big on the Illinois side of the river.

"We have nine people in custody that are awaiting these bed spaces at these mental health facilities," Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos said. "Since the first of the year we have already sent 17 other people."

Bustos said many times those with mental illness end up in his jail because they have nowhere else to go, including home.

"These people become homeless, living on the streets they encounter law enforcement or go into a business and act out," Bustos said. "Next thing you know they're arrested and here they are. And it's a vicious cycle, one that leaves these inmates without the help they need. We do what we can to get them as much mental health treatment as we can, but we are not equipped for long-term care or for specific diagnosis and the medication that may help with that." 

Meanwhile, until more beds open up in facilities designed to treat these inmates, Lane only has one possible solution -- and it's one he's not allowed to implement.

"What I would like to see is the jail being able to force-medicate individuals who have already been determined to have mental health problems that can benefit from those medications, that's what I would like to see. Now, I'm told that that is just not going to happen. Since that is not going to happen, I'd like to see maybe an expanded use of our local treatment facilities. Some of these inmates maybe going out and getting treatment at these facilities. In order to stabilize them so that when they come back into our jail, they may continue to take their medications and have an easier time with the program." 

While there are no easy answers, everyone we talked with says something needs to be done and the sooner, the better. 

Part one of Mike Mickle's story aired Wednesday on Local 4 News at 10. Watch it here and read it exclusively on OurQuadCities.com

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