Mental Health and Reoffending Issues Are Dealt with in Arizona County Jail Program

29April
2019

Many jails contain house numbers of inmates who suffer from mental illnesses. Jail administrators in Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office were surprised to learn more than half of inmates in detention had been diagnosed with mental health problems.

The revelation in 2015 sparked action by the sheriff’s office.

The Verde Valley’s JournalAZ.com reported on how jail authorities set up a program to tackle reoffending and issues such as mental health problems and substance abuse.

Four years ago, the authorities found of 492 inmates in county detention that year, 52 percent were diagnosed with a psychosis. They were receiving prescribed medication for their conditions.  A massive 70 percent struggled with substance abuse. Many inmates were jailed for minor crimes, often not involving violence.

Reoffending tackled in new jail program

Arizona jail program tackles reoffending

YCSO Chief Deputy David Rhodes, who oversees jail operations, was blunt in his assessment. He told JournalAZ.com.

“It was a systemic failure and it still is. All over the state and all over the nation, mentally ill people spend longer times in jail than people without mental illness.”

They also find it more difficult to get out of jail.

He felt the jail was failing inmates and the community. Many of the defendants who entered the jail re-offended soon after they were released, returning to the county jail. Some even stepped up their offending.

A subtle change began that year. The county jail began screening people for potential mental health issues as soon as they entered the jail. They began a program to help inmates avoid re-offending after they leave. All too often people who are incarcerated are stranded with little support in the community. They end up homeless and habitually re-offend.

The anti-recidivism program was dubbed the Reach Out program. It has grown as it received grants from many sources, including the Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority Institute, the Federal Bureau of Justice Administration, and the state of Arizona. In March 2018, the jail started recording more accurate statistics on inmates to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Last July, it hired a social worker who was previously the Justice Liaison at Health Choice Integrated Care.

The program aims to support former inmates with mental illnesses when they return to the community.  The jail checks up on them with the service providers they partnered with after 30 days and then again after 90 days to see if they made progress. Other agencies get involved in the partnership.

Although the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office program is in its infancy, its supporters are optimistic. They believe it’s the first of its kind in the country.

It’s not unusual for jails and prisons in Arizona to contain a large number of people who suffer from mental illnesses. Facilities often fail to provide adequate help.

In places like Maricopa County, mentally ill inmates are often held in solitary confinement.

Attorney Bernardo Garcia focuses his practice on people with mental illnesses who are charged with crimes. Call him today at (602) 340-1999.

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