How Detention Center Is Working to Treat, Not Just Confine, the Mentally Ill

Las Vegas Sun

By Ricardo Torres-Cortez

On Wednesday afternoon, the inmates slept, read and chatted in one of the open housing units. In another, a medic accompanied by two officers went room to room, administering medication. And in a higher-security section, officers kept an eye on the internees on monitors and by conducting walk-throughs every 15 minutes.

As is increasingly the case in jails across the U.S., the Clark County Detention Center has become the largest mental health facility in the valley, or “ground zero” as an official referred to it Wednesday during a presentation and tour of the facility, which has identified up to a quarter of its population as taking medications for mental illness.

The majority of the inmates with those issues are placed in specialized housing units. But many of them are landing in jail on minor offenses, and their short stays can “exacerbate their symptoms,” said Metro Police Capt. Nita Schmidt during the “Stepping Up: A Day of Action” initiative presentation. “In many cases, it can increase the likelihood of recidivism.”

Clark County in 2015 became one of the roughly 415 jurisdictions (across 43 states) that passed a resolution to bring awareness to and address the problem.

This calls for the county jail to “create sustainable, systems-level policy and practice changes to better link people to treatment services while improving public safety.”

The jail houses 4,498 total inmates. Last year, it conducted more than 11,000 mental health assessments, providing almost 40,000 mental health visits and drafting 5,042 discharge plans.

With about 70 percent of its population spending eight days or less behind bars, finding those services is a challenge, Schmidt said.

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