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Lawmakers Struggle to Find Money for Mental Health Screenings for Inmates

Steve Helber


Lawmakers started the session with a resolve to do something about the problem of mental illness in Virginia jails, an effort that has urgency this year because of a tragic death that happened last year. But as Michael Pope reports, now lawmakers are saying they can’t find the money to change the system.


Many lawmakers view the death of a man who struggled with mental illness at the Hampton Roads jail as a shocking example of a system gone wrong.

That’s why many of them supported an effort by Democratic Senator Creigh Deeds to perform mental-health screenings when inmates arrive at jails in Virginia. Everybody was on board with the idea, Deeds says, but now nobody seems to know where the money can come from. 

“That money has all been scarfed away into the salary pile, and so we’re still working scrambling for some help to meet that goal if we can,” says Deeds.

Republican Senator John Cosgrove says maybe lawmakers will be able to fund mental health screenings at jails down the road, when the economy improves. 

“The $4.2 million impact each year was problematic for the money committees," Cosgrove says. "Senator Deeds came up with some language that makes it the policy, but there is no money associated with that.”

That means right now, there is no state money for screening inmates at jails for mental illness even though everybody is theoretically on board with doing it.

Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe is working behind the scenes to persuade lawmakers to fund the mental health screenings. He has about a week to make it happen. 

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