Leaders meet at HRRJ to discuss mental health, substance abuse

This image of Hampton Roads Regional Jail was provided by the Norfolk Sheriff's Office.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Leaders from across the Commonwealth met Friday to find ways to tackle mental health and substance abuse issues in correctional facilities in Virginia.

“It’s a huge issue,” said Virginia Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel.

Jails and prisons across Virginia are dealing with the growing issue: The numbers of inmates with mental health issues is rising and officials are trying to figure out how to keep up.

“If they are not treated, they are getting worse because of the environment,” Hazel added.

The issue of mental health behind bars has come under fire after Jamycheal Mitchell died inside the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. His death has jail superintendents looking to see what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

“There are complex problems that require resources in terms of staffing, medication and counseling,” said Virginia Secretary of the Public Safety and Homeland Security, Brian Moran.

Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe is serving as interim superintendent at Hampton Roads Regional.  Right now, of the 1,150 inmates at the jail, 641 of them have been diagnosed with having mental illnesses.

“I think there has been a real big difference on identifying those who need the most services,” McCabe said.

HRRJ has made some changes, but Sheriff McCabe says they need more funding to deal with the growing needs.

“Funding is always going to be an issue,” McCabe said.