Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour says he intends closing down mental health centres. I don't have funds, he pleads. But the move has been roundly denounced by the state's sheriffs.
Six mental health crisis centers, four mental health facilities and the state's only juvenile correction center are all facing the axe as the blunt-speaking Barbour is trying to balance his budget.
The correctional facility alone costs the state $22 million. It was established in 1943. The facility, known as Oakley Training School, located on 1,200 acres near Raymond, houses eight girls and 102 boys, according to the Department of Human Services. And it costs the state $22 million.
More than 300 DHS employees work there. The state entered into a decree in 2005 with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve conditions at the facility after federal authorities investigated and then sued over poor conditions, inadequate staffing and alleged abuses.
Shutting down all those centres would put an insurmountable burden on county jails, Willie March, president of the Mississippi Sheriffs' Association said Wednesday.
"You can't put them in county jails," March said referring to the adolescents held in Oakley School.
He hoped politicians could reach a more sensible solution to cut back on spending without jeopardizing the treatment of the mentally ill or the safety of the public.
"I don't know what it costs, but the leadership of this state should be able to work together to figure out a plan rather than putting these people back on the streets," March said.
In a resolution, the sheriffs' association warned closing mental health facilities would "very likely expose counties to increased lawsuits and liability resulting from alleged deprivations of civil rights."
"We believe in this time of budget crisis these reductions are necessary, but the governor has said he's willing to listen to other ideas," said Barbour spokesman Dan Turner. "In the end, we have to close this budget gap, and we have to do so responsibly."