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Mississippi Hospital Transfers Some Mental Health Patients To Jail While Awaiting Treatment

Roughly 200 people in DeSoto County were jailed annually during the civil commitment process, most without criminal charges, between 2021 and 2023. About a fifth of them were picked up at local hospitals, reports Mississippi Today and ProPublica. The overwhelming majority of those patients, according to an analysis, were at Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto, the largest in this prosperous, suburban county near Memphis. “That would just be unthinkable here,” said Dr. Grayson Norquist, the chief of psychiatry at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, a professor at Emory University and the former chair of psychiatry at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. Norquist was one of 17 physicians specializing in emergency medicine or psychiatry, including leaders in their fields, who said they had never heard of a hospital sending patients to jail solely to wait for mental health treatment. Several said it violates doctors’ Hippocratic oath: to do no harm.

The practice appears to be unusual even in Mississippi, where lawmakers recently acted to limit when people can be jailed as they go through the civil commitment process. Sheriff’s departments in about a third of the state’s counties, including those that appear to jail such people most frequently, responded to questions from Mississippi Today and ProPublica about how they handle involuntary commitment. They said they seldom, if ever, take people who need mental health treatment from a hospital to jail. At most, said sheriffs in a few rural counties, they do it once or twice a month. But in DeSoto County, hospital patients were jailed about 50 times a year from 2021 to 2023, according to the news outlets’ estimate, which was based on a review of Sheriff’s Department dispatch logs, incident reports and jail dockets.


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