Sheriff seeks help for inmate; mental health system 'broken'

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DETROIT (AP) — A sheriff in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is using social media to plead for assistance for a mentally ill jail inmate.

“We have tried over and over to get this man the help he needs. The mental health system in Michigan is broken,” Chippewa County Sheriff Michael Bitnar said on Facebook.

Bitnar said the man, a Vietnam veteran, was found incompetent to stand trial in December, but that a bed at a state psychiatric hospital won't be available until June. He didn't identify the man or the charges.

“I understand there is a waiting list and under normal circumstances we just have to wait it out,” the sheriff wrote Friday. "However, this man is not able to communicate and refuses to shower. To make it worse he constantly smears his own feces all over the walls, doors and windows within his cell. This occurs multiple times a day.

“Sitting in a correctional facility is not what this man needs. He needs professional mental health care,” Bitnar said.

He said it's a job for the state, local mental health providers or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“If something happens to this veteran while he is in my correctional facility, everyone will blame our office and me personally,” Bitnar said.

The Facebook post has been shared by more than 600 people. There were more than 260 comments, many in support of the sheriff.

It wasn't known whether Bitnar's plea has led to any action. He was away from work Monday and not available for comment, his office said.

"Bless you for your empathy and compassion to go above and beyond for your efforts in obtaining the proper environment for such a person," Tanya Arcilla responded on Facebook.

About 2 million times each year, the seriously mentally ill are admitted to jails nationwide. Nearly 75% of these inmates also have drug or alcohol problems, according to the Stepping Up Initiative, a coalition of mental health professionals and government groups working on alternatives.


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