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How a proposed program could help inmates with mental health before release

Mayor Harris says the Shelby County Jail has some of the highest volume of inmates in America, some of which suffer from mental strain and substance abuse.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — According to Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, The Bailey Justice Center at 201 Poplar has one of the highest volumes of inmates in the country. Harris adds a lot of them are repeat offenders who face substance abuse and mental strain.

"You have to create a new individual, in order just to survive, and there has never been an opportunity for you to decompress when you come home to learn how to be the old you again, or whomever this new person is," said DeAndre Brown.

Today Brown is the executive director at the Shelby County Office of Re-Entry. He helps people who were in jail return to their lives outside the prison walls. Brown knows the experience firsthand, because he lived through it 30 years ago. He spent two years in state and federal prison.

“It changes you, prison affects you, it traumatizes you,” said Brown, who adds there is often a lack of resources for former inmates that do return to daily life. Without a way to process what they have been through, Brown says those former inmates could reoffend.

“Coming home from prison was the most terrifying experience of my life. I was driving home from prison and I thought they were going to change their minds….And I was terrified because I didn’t want to go back to that place,” said Brown.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is trying to curb this strain many people face. Harris is trying to put together a program to help treat inmate PTSD, anxiety and substance abuse among other issues.

The proposed program will take inspiration from the Behavioral Care Center from the Nashville area, and unite inmates with critical resources while they are in jail.

“We would love to have a couple dozen beds that are connected to the justice complex here and are in the control of Shelby County government,” said Harris.

The Shelby County Mayor tells ABC24 he hopes this will help quickly treat inmates, stabilize them, help them meet their court dates and help lessen the likelihood the inmate will reoffend once they are released.

While 24 beds does not seem a lot, especially compared to the 2,000 average inmates at the justice center, these beds would have a quick turnover rate. The treatment would be short term at first, and then connect the inmates with long term solutions.

“A program for substance abuse could only be a few weeks, or a few days, and then we could turn that bed over for the next individual that needs a short term treatment, and then a reference to a longer term treatment module,” said Harris.

The proposal is still in development and is expected to go before the Shelby County Commission in a couple months. Harris believes commissioners will support these efforts, and says there is around $5 million in the mayor’s budget to potentially get the program off the ground.

Brown believes the plan can be successful, as long as the services are versatile.

“It can’t be a program that’s cookie cutter that people have to figure out how to navigate. They must be able to respond individually, in order for it to have its maximum impact,” said Brown.

Mayor Harris tells ABC24 he will take a group with him to Nashville to tour the county’s Behavioral Care Center. This will include District Attorney Steve Mulroy, who has voiced his support of the program during a May 2nd news conference.

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