Mother of inmate calls attention to mental health in Kentucky jails

MADISON COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — The walls of Ramee Birchfield’s home are lined with photos and paintings of her son Logan Browning.

Browning is now behind bars after being accused of barricading himself inside an ex’s apartment in an hours-long stand-off with police before setting the apartment on fire.

Birchfield has kept notes of her son’s battle with mental illness, which she says started in the third grade. Without his medicine, Birchfield says he can get to a very depressed state.

She says she’s tried to get his prescribed medication to him in the Madison County jail but was denied. Weeks later, Browning says he’s still without his medicine.

“I personally took prescriptions down to my son and they were denied to him. He’s been denied doctors’ visits. I just think when they need their medicine. They need their medicine,” said Birchfield.

She’s now worried that with the way mental health is handled in jail– he won’t make it out alive.

“It may be two years before he goes to court. So, I just want to know that he’s not going to attempt suicide because he’s not getting his medicine. He’s getting made fun of because he’s not on his medicine,” said Birchfield.

When asked why someone might be denied the ability to drop off medicine, Madison County jailer Stephen Tussey said he wasn’t aware of anyone being denied medicine.

LEX 18 also looked at suicide attempts at the Madison County Detention center, 45 different incident reports since April 2020 detailing actual attempts, and other reports of inmates being put on suicide watch.

Tussey says he believes those numbers are inflated. he says they use a service called jail triage when prisoners are brought in… which leans on the side of caution and puts inmates on suicide watch until they can be properly evaluated.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Kentucky says mental health is a huge issue behind bars and is working with lawmakers to find a solution.

Lobbyist TJ Litafik says Senate Bill 90, establishing a behavioral health conditional dismissal pilot program for the incarcerated is one of them.

“So often we have incarcerated persons in Kentucky who are there because of mental health issues or addiction or both of which is called co-addiction,” said Litafik. “Our jails are understaffed and undertrained in many ways. Our county jailers are extraordinarily overburdened in many circumstances, their employees do the best that they can, but they simply don’t have the tools or the financial resources that they need.”

Litafik says they’re working with others to help equip jails and prisons with the tools and training they need.

Tussey says his staff is properly managing mental health issues and to his knowledge, no inmates have gone without medications.

“Our staffing has been an issue in the past, however right now we are better staffed than we ever have been. Even though we have been short-staffed at times, this has not impacted our care and oversite of mental health concerns,” Tussey responded in an email.

When asked why a person would be denied the ability to drop off prescribed medicine, we did not yet receive a response.

According to the prison policy initiative, 17% or more of all incarcerated people have behavioral health issues. Less than 10$ of jails have full-time mental health staff.

NAMI estimates people with mental illness are overrepresented in our nation’s jails and prisons 37% in state and federal prisons and 44% held in local jails.

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