Tennessee General Assembly Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) was in Jackson Friday morning with Julian Wiser having a conversation with law enforcement leaders from around rural West Tennessee to discuss mental health issues and truth in sentencing that was passed earlier this year in the state legislature.
The appearance was one in a series Sexton is having across the state in conversation with law enforcement leaders to get an idea of what needs to be done to help them do their job from their perspective.
Sexton said similar conversations happened last year with judges and district attorneys, and the truth in sentencing bill that was passed this past legislative session was a result of that.
Multiple counties were represented in the conversation that focused largely on mental health.
Sexton asked the group for a rough estimate of how many inmates in their jails should actually be in mental health institutions, and the answer Sexton received was about 10 percent.
Sexton said that number is consistent with the answers he’s gotten when asking that question in other places.
One of the things discussed was trying to get the Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar back up to where it’s run in the past with more staffing and patients.
“It may be at 10 percent of what it once ran, and I have to believe it’s not because we’re doing that much better mentally as a society right now,” Sexton said. “We’ve got people in jail that should be there, and others are homeless or in bad situations that need access to that kind of help.
“It’s hard for me to go anywhere in the state and have a conversation like this and not hear from someone who’s dealt with mental health issues in the past, got the help they needed and are leading a good life now because they got straightened out.”
And changing the stigma associated with mental health issues is happening too.
“It’s been something people didn’t want to talk about or address in the past, but that seems to be going away now, which is good,” Sexton said.
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