UA Presentation Seeks to Raise Awareness About Mental Health Crisis in Jails

Dr. Marisa Giggie

Note to editors/producers: The media is invited to the panel discussion, but any reporter/photographer who plans to attend must contact Kim Eaton, UA media relations, in advance, to have their names given to security. She can be reached at 205/348-8325 or 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama’s Dr. Marisa Giggie hopes to bring attention to the mental health crisis in jails and prisons during a presentation and panel discussion April 25.

In a mental health crisis, people are more likely to encounter police than get medical help, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, known as NAMI.

As a result, more than 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jails each year. The vast majority of these individuals are not violent criminals – they have not yet gone to trial and are not yet convicted of a crime, information from NAMI indicates.

But, once in jail, they might not receive the treatment they need and might end up getting worse.

The mental illnesses these inmates experience can include drug addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, said Giggie, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at UA’s College of Community Health Sciences and chief psychiatrist for the Tuscaloosa County Jail.

Giggie will present “Mental Health in Correctional Settings in Tuscaloosa” at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, in Willard Auditorium at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.

The panel discussion will also include Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ron Abernathy and the Honorable M. Bradley Almond, presiding judge of Tuscaloosa’s Mental Health Court.

Giggie said confinement to jail cells can increase the symptoms of these inmates.

“The criminalization of the mentally ill is a public health crisis,” said Giggie, who has worked with inmates at the Tuscaloosa County Jail since 2012. “Since the systematic erosion of public mental health services over the past 20 years, severely mentally ill patients are being arrested more than they are getting treated by public mental health agencies, and the burden is falling predominantly on local jails.

“Most jails are ill-equipped to handle the depth of need. Thus, our most vulnerable in society enter a revolving door in and out of the correctional system because when they are released, there is little to no connection with outpatient mental health services.”

Giggie said the issue of mental illness among offenders in the criminal justice system is not new, but now there is better information about the scope of the issue.

The rise in inmates with mental disorders began decades ago when policies were enacted nationwide that moved mentally ill people out of state institutions in an attempt to allow them to return to their families and live independently.

To try to deal with the influx of mentally ill inmates, Tuscaloosa County, in 2012, implemented a mental health court that was established by Almond, Abernathy and Indian Rivers Mental Health Facility in Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa County Mental Health Court is a jail diversion program for nonviolent mentally ill offenders.

In addition to Giggie, the Tuscaloosa County Jail also employs a full-time social worker.

Giggie sees approximately 30 percent of the total jail population for a variety of mental health issues like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, trauma and suicidal ideation.

“I hope that by discussing this issue with various agencies involved with this vulnerable population, we can build on what we’ve started at the jail and start working together as a community to craft common-sense solutions to this crisis,” she said.


Kim Eaton, UA media relations, 205/348-8325 or

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.