Mental Health Unit
The Bergen County Sheriff's Office maintains a comprehensive mental health service delivery system within the Bergen County Jail. On-site clinical services are available seven days per week. The Director of Behavioral Health Services and a Psychiatrist provide on-call coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Bergen County Jail currently houses about 200 inmates who are identified as having significant mental health issues. This is in-line with larger trends, as jails are quickly becoming the largest custodians of the mentally ill in the nation.
Jail staff screens every inmate for mental health issues and subsequent vulnerability to incarceration. Inmates who require follow up services are managed throughout their stay at the jail. Inmates with acute needs are placed in specially designated housing units and are monitored according to need.
The jail utilizes a three-step level system that allows for the entire facility to be aware of special needs and adjust its overall management accordingly. All sick call requests of a mental health nature are triaged by a qualified mental healthcare provider.
All inmates with identified mental health needs are afforded the opportunity to receive ongoing direct clinical services with a qualified mental health clinician. At present, the jail's mental health unit offers six professionally facilitated groups and individual counseling as needed/requested. All inmates who require psychotropic medication are routinely followed by a psychiatrist.
Seriously and persistently mentally ill inmates often require hospital-based services. As such, the Sheriff's Office maintains a forensic psychiatric unit at Bergen Regional Medical Center. The goal of the unit is to provide acute stabilization so inmates are more effectively cared for while at the jail. The jail’s mental health staff also assist the Department of Human Services in the process of complying with court ordered evaluations. Jail staff make inmates and their records available when assessments are performed onsite. Very often these evaluations take place off site at Ann Klein Forensic Center in Trenton, N.J. In these cases, the jail provides all relevant clinical data and helps to facilitate an orderly and secure transportation.
In order to amplify the current service provision, the Sheriff's Office maintains open relationships with community mental health service providers. As an example of this, the Jail has a collaborative agreement with CarePlusNJ via the Jail Diversion program. This program focuses on inmates who may be incarcerated due to effects from their mental illness. The Jail Diversion program seeks to identify these individuals and explore the possibility of having them participate in treatment in lieu of incarceration. In similar fashion, the jail makes every reasonable attempt to help community providers maintain connection with their clients whenever these individuals are incarcerated.
The Jail Mental Health Unit also maintains a 262-Help notification process. Whenever, upon release, an inmate may be a danger to himself/herself or others due to mental illness, the Unit contacts the Psychiatric Emergency Screening Program to have that inmate screened. This process allows for the safety of both the inmate and the community. In many cases, these inmates are admitted to the hospital and are further stabilized prior to a return to the community.