NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WVEC) -- Local officials are addressing the connection between inmate deaths and mental health.
Last year more than 11% of Virginia inmate deaths were suicides.
During a training Monday, leaders discussed better ways to investigate jail deaths and what resources are in place in Hampton Roads.
“We're fighting the odds, we're doing the best we can and we're training to try and get it better,” Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan says.
Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill allowing the state Board of Corrections to review inmate deaths in local and regional jails. The purpose of the new legislation is to make sure facilities follow Board's regulations.
The legislation comes after several high-profile deaths at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, Jamycheal Mitchell in 2015 and Henry Stewart in 2016, both currently under investigation by the Justice Department.
Officers found 20-year-old Jakim Funderburk dead inside his cell in March.
Superintendent for the Hampton Roads Regional jail Ronaldo Myers says transparency is key.
“Jails have always had a closed door mentally and people don't care what happens in any jail unless it's a loved one, so we have to open the door and says this is what happened,” Myers says.
Virginia's Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran was also in attendance Monday at the “Jail Death Investigations” training.
“We need to get to the bottom of it, to identify the causes and eradicate the problem,” Moran says.
Secretary Moran says too many people with mental illness are ending up in jails, which he says should not be a substitute for mental health services.
“Without those services, we have to work with our jails to provide mental health resources in jail,” Moran says. “It is not the optimal scenario but it I reality. They’re asking for the resources.
More than $3 million went towards six mental health jail pilots, including here in Hampton Roads.
According to the Virginia Compensation Board, the number of Virginia inmates with mental illness went from 4,879 in 2008 to 6,554 last year.
The Board of Corrections will have a board retreat and planning meeting August 16.
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