Inmates who have a history of mental illness will receive additional assistance from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the county jail.
The Board of Clark County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a request from Sheriff Garry Lucas to add two discharge planners, who will help inmates arrange to get help for mental illnesses and chemical dependency upon release.
In 2012, Lucas said the jail has been viewed as a warehouse for the mentally ill and pledged to commissioners he would step up efforts to identify at-risk inmates, increase training for custody officers on how to best handle mentally ill inmates and make sure inmates who leave jail have a discharge plan to ease their transition back into the community.
Nationwide, there are three times more seriously mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in hospitals, according to a 2010 study by the National Sheriff’s Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center. The study also found that in 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans, and by 2005 there was one psychiatric bed for every 3,000 Americans.
Jail Chief Ric Bishop anticipates the addition of two discharge planners will help cut down on repeated arrests for people with mental illnesses.
“Community organizations have volunteered to help people released from the jail. However, we do not have professionals to screen and connect these people to mental health, addictions and other existing services. These new positions will be a big help in keeping them out of the revolving jail doors,” said Bishop, according to a county news release.
The $148,500 will be included in the county’s updated budget this spring. The money will come from sales tax revenues dedicated to treatment programs.
“This is one more tool aimed at addressing special needs that make it difficult for people to succeed and increase costs for ensuring public safety,” Commissioner Tom Mielke said, according to the news release. “We want to help them become more stable and productive and help law enforcement be efficient.”
In 2012, commissioners approved $545,000 to upgrade the jail to help prevent suicide. That work includes replacing all 42 shower heads with shorter-nozzled models, and replacing at least 356 protruding fire sprinklers, which was expensive because it required cutting into walls and moving pipes.
Between 2007 and 2012, a total of 13 inmates committed suicide.
Last year was the first year since 2006 there were no suicides.
At least one jail death has resulted in a lawsuit against the county.
In February 2012, Marius C. Asanachescu, an inmate with bipolar disorder, was killed while being restrained by officers. The death was ruled a homicide by asphyxia and no criminal charges were filed against the officers; prosecutors called it “an unfortunate, tragic accident.”
In March 2013, Asanachescu’s family filed a lawsuit against the county and the jail’s medical provider, alleging staff was “deliberately indifferent” to Asanachescu’s medical needs and officers used excessive force. The case is pending in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.