Mentally ill taxing corrections system in unforeseen ways

Mike Lovelace might be on to something. The Marquette County sheriff this week with little fanfare proposed establishment of a secure, local facility for those dealing with severe mental illness. Lovelace broached the idea in an address before a state panel in Marquette headed by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

Under the proposal, mentally ill patients who are deemed a clear danger to themselves or others would be relocated to a new facility at the Marquette County Community Corrections Detention Center in Chocolay Township. Mining Journal Staff Writer Kyle Whitney attended the hearing and penned a front page story that appeared in Tuesday’s Mining Journal.

Lovelace pulled no punches. He said mentally ill, out-of-control inmates at the Marquette County Jail, who often have been turned away from the psych unit at Marquette General Hospital due to violent behavior, must sometimes be chained to the floor by jail personnel to keep them from harming themselves.

“We have to put a helmet on their head and surround them with cushions and mattresses, so they can’t repeatedly smack their head into the wall. And that’s just one way in which they try to harm themselves,” Lovelace said.

In the last 18 months, he noted there have been 14 suicide attempts in the Marquette County Jail, though staff have successfully intervened in each instance. People who are a danger to themselves or others must often be transported to a secure psych facility, most of which are downstate. That means a significant investment in time and money at a time when both are at a premium.

One possible solution would be establishment of a secure detention facility at the Chocolay Township site set up under a public-private arrangement. He mentioned Duke LifePoint, the health care corporation that purchased Marquette General Hospital, as one possible partner.

First of all, we’d like to thank Lovelace for making brutally public what a great many police officers we know have been saying privately for years: Difficult to manage, mentally ill offenders tax the corrections system in ways it was not designed to handle.

We realize that Lovelace’s proposal needs much more meat on the bone before we can support or oppose it. That said, clearly something needs to be done and his ideas are as good a starting point as any. We hope local officials, from corrections, law enforcement and health care come together to take the discussion to its next logical steps.