In Yavapai County, Arizona, they are rethinking what the jail experience should be like for mentally ill individuals. Jailed individuals with mental illness often act up and exhibit out of control behaviors that land them in isolation cells, when what they really need is something different. Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department Captain David Rhodes says, “When you take someone with a medical condition and try and discipline it out of them, the results are in that it does not work… We need to be pro-active, and we need a new approach.”
So Yavapai County detention center reimagined a mental health unit that would provide mentally ill inmates who have committed low-level misdemeanors and felonies a place to stay if they cannot afford bond and while awaiting trial. While there, the inmates can spend time in the beautifully painted, earth-toned room, playing games, talking, studying, or receiving treatment for their mental illness. The center can hold a maximum of 600 inmates, and currently has about 500 inmates.
In addition to the mental health services provided while in jail, there is an outreach program that links released inmates with mental health services in the community, to ensure the individuals keep getting the treatment they need. This program is in effect to reduce the chances that the individual will end up back in jail.
Says Rhodes, “Evidence supports that if you do nothing, something bad will happen. So we want to do something so there is less of a chance. You don’t know the crimes you prevent by investing something upfront. That’s why I believe in it. These people have to have some hope.”
Not everyone in jail needs to be in jail. It is great that Yavapai County is taking steps to help mentally ill people in need, and that they are proactively working to prevent mentally ill individuals from getting caught up in the legal system. We can hope that Yavapai’s system will become a model for other counties, including Maricopa County, to adopt and incorporate.
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