Across the state about three-dozen prisoners with mental health issues are in county jails waiting to be evaluated.

Across the state about three-dozen prisoners with mental health issues are in county jails waiting to be evaluated.

Two prisoners in the Pratt County Jail are among those who have been ordered to the Larned State Hospital security evaluation unit for a mental health evaluation, said Pratt County Sheriff Vernon Chinn.

At the Sedgwick County Jail, a total of 10 prisoners are currently waiting for an opening in the evaluation unit, said Sedgwick County Sheriff Capt. Larry Bragg, captain over operations at the jail detention facility.

A combination of limited space at Larned and the number of court-ordered evaluations has 37 prisoners waiting in jails across the state.

In Pratt County the prisoners may have to wait three months for an opening. In Sedgwick County the average wait for an opening is 80 days.

If space is not available at Larned, the jail has no other option for placing the prisoners in a more suitable facility. The court orders are strict, Chinn said.

Fortunately, some relief is on the way.

The security evaluation unit at Larned houses 190 patients. Currently, the Isaac Ray building of the LSH facility is undergoing renovation to add 30 more beds to accommodate security evaluation patients, said Angela DeRoacha, director of communications for the Department of Aging and Disabilities, which oversees state hospitals and institutions.

"We're in the process of creating an entirely new unit to deal with evaluation requests," DeRoacha said.

The new 30-bed unit is scheduled to open Dec. 30 and will help alleviate the problem without solving it completely.

In the meantime, while they are waiting for a spot to open, each jail is responsible for the mental health treatment of the prisoners.

The Sedgwick County Jail works with Conmed, a medical contractor, to provide mental health care for those prisoners who need it, Bragg said.

However, smaller facilities such as the Pratt County Jail, have limited funding and don't the staff to deal adequately with mental health issues.

Mental health costs can be very expensive. One prisoner required 23 psychotropic medicines at a rate of $600 a week. Psychotropic medicines are becoming a leading expense in jails — one that can't be avoided, Chinn said.

Until more beds are available, it will continue to be a problem.

Besides those waiting be evaluated, the total number of prisoners with mental health issues is growing and their care is entrusted to law enforcement as well, Chinn said.

Most jail facilities don't have the staff or facilities to handle the mentally ill. While they have committed a crime they are also sick and need treatment that many jails are not able to provide.

"It's a sad liability that falls on every sheriff in the country," Chinn said. "But it's a growing problem in America."

For Sedgwick County, every day that prisoners for evaluation fill a bed in the jail, it costs the facility in two ways. First, the jail has to cover the expenses for the prisoner, including any mental health issues.

Second, that bed could also be used to house one of the 232 prisoners the jail has to house out of county because of a lack of space. Sedgwick County Jail routinely pays other counties for the cost of hosting its overflow prisoners.

While the Larned evaluation facility has a waiting list, the hospital has space available and is taking prisoners that have been through the evaluation process and have been sentenced in the court to serve time in the hospital facility, DeRoacha said.