Jailhouse Middles: Detention center focuses on mental health issues | Western Colorado

Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis, left, and Capt. Art Smith, Mesa County Detention Division Officer.

The Mesa County Detention Center is no longer just a jail.

It is also a major part of Mesa County’s efforts to address mental and behavioral health issues. Several things are happening in the jail and around the county that are designed to not only keep its population to a minimum, but also to help prevent inmates from reoffending.

“Over the past two years, we’ve recognized that nearly 50 percent of our inmates are taking antipsychotics,” Mesa County Sheriff Todd Rowell said in an interview. “I want to see people treated with their appropriate level of care, and for the majority of these inmates, our prison is not the appropriate level of care.”

One of the primary tools available to the detention center is Prison Behavioral Services, which offers a range of programs to help inmates with substance abuse, skills enhancement and medication assistance.

Some of this may sound like something you’d expect to be offered by a mental or behavioral health provider, like Mind Springs, but prisons have embraced them for two main reasons: To ensure a safe and secure detention facility for inmates and staff, and to help inmates correct their behavior so that they can, when released, become productive members of society.

“We have this robust system to stabilize them, but one of the things we’ve recognized is that when they come out of our doors, there’s no one to catch them,” Rowell said. “They’re on the sidewalk calling the last person they knew, and they end up with the same people who got them in trouble in the first place.”

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Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis, left, and Capt. Art Smith, Mesa County Detention Division Officer.


One way to solve this problem is to use a relatively new transition program started by the prison, designed to help soon-to-be-released inmates get the things they might need to succeed so prison doesn’t become a doorway. turning point for them.

Until recently, the prison employed one person to take care of these tasks, but recently added a second.

“They take care of everything from getting back on Medicaid, getting their driver’s license, getting all the paperwork they need for a social security card, basically things they would need to get a job,” Rowell said. “They also combine them with outside treatment. Often, this treatment is not immediate. Often it’s two weeks or a month away, and someone with a serious mental problem or a substance abuse problem will never last two weeks.

To address this issue, the Sheriff’s Office, the Mesa County Department of Social Services and the County Board of Commissioners, announced a new program last week to deal with these so-called high-end users.

Rowell said it’s helpful, if not crucial, for the county as a whole to address mental and behavioral health issues beyond the prison’s needs.


The county plans to create a new community-based intensive case management program, designed to reduce reliance on law enforcement and hospital emergency rooms for non-threatening mental health emergencies.

This program, which should be operational by August or September, would pick up where the prison leaves off, Commissioner Janet Rowland said.

Rowland has been at the forefront of finding ways to strengthen how the county deals with mental and behavioral health issues, which involves much more than dealing with inmates.

“I remember going on rides years ago, and I was shocked at the amount of social work law enforcement officers have to do,” Rowland said. “That’s where I really hope the case management element will help with that, and that’s why we’re starting with that first.”

Like Rowell, Rowland said part of the problem is the lack of support for people with mental and behavioral health issues.

This program received a major boost last week when St. Mary’s Medical Center and its new owners, Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, announced a $300,000 grant to help launch this health management component. case.

“No one’s family is spared. Nobody,” said Dr. Marc Harrison, president and CEO of Intermountain, which recently purchased St. Mary’s and others in the SCL Health hospital group.

“Everyone is feeling the pain of behavioral health issues, and it has never been more acute than right now at the end of the worst part of this pandemic,” he added. “Addressing behavioral health and doing it right is a team sport. No agency or region can solve this problem. The only way to approach things is to play to each of our strengths.

That money, along with funds from the sheriff’s office and state grants, will bring in about $1 million to keep it running.

The new program must be designed to help people meet their needs. This not only helps prevent future problems, but also saves taxpayers money from having to provide services after the fact, such as trials and incarceration.

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Scott Crabtree/The Daily Sentinel

Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis, left, talks about jail-based behavioral services with Capt. Art Smith, Mesa County Detention Division Manager.

“So often they go off their meds, and that’s when they start to spiral down,” Rowland said.

“They start hallucinating or they get aggressive and they attack someone. Now a crime is being committed and they must be stopped,” she added. “If we can step in earlier and have someone check in on them daily to make sure they’ve taken their meds, eaten or have a roof over their head, I think that we’re going to see a decrease in that. Hopefully around this time next year we can see some real progress.

Earlier this year, the county announced a somewhat similar program designed to help anyone in need get help with a variety of things.

Called the Mental Health Navigation Hub, the program is to be staffed by seven people whose sole task is to “hold people’s hands” through the process of connecting them to treatment or any other service they need, said Rowland.

A separate group of workers must also be available at an upcoming Economic Mobility Hub, which must direct those in need to the financial assistance they are entitled to, such as food stamps or housing assistance.

This all stems from a new Mesa County Mental Health Collaborative, a group started by Rowland and others last year aimed at identifying issues and implementing a more comprehensive solution to address health needs. mental.


Another way to deal with such incidents that is being implemented statewide, if not nationwide, is to supplant the law enforcement response in certain circumstances on these issues and replace them or reinforced by mental health professionals.

Due to internal issues at Mind Springs, the county’s two-person Crisis Response Team that was created to assist law enforcement is no longer.

Rowland and Rowell hope to get it back by fall, and with a bigger and better mission.

“It’s definitely a gap, but we think we’ve found a way to fill it,” she said. “For the (Grand Junction) Police Department and Sheriff’s Office, we are looking at potential funding through Rocky (Mountain Health Plans) that would help us build a team of five therapists who would be part of this co-responder. unity.”

“We used to have two therapists who were provided by Mind Springs, but as Mind Springs started to lose staff, that’s a program they cut,” she added. “The city is also hiring two therapists to be their co-response team. Between these seven, we think we can cover it all.

Another thing the prison is doing, which was mandated by a new law passed last year, is to find more ways to alleviate mental health issues for anyone serving a prison sentence, including those who don’t have not yet been judged.

This new law requires prisons the size of Mesa County or larger to monitor the mental health of inmates more closely, including providing them with more recreation time.

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Photo courtesy of Mesa County Jail A Mesa County Jail inmate plays handball.

To do this, the prison is modifying one of its modules and outdoor courtyards – at a cost of around $800,000 – to accommodate everyone, including creating more private outdoor spaces for those who are too dangerous to be paired up with other inmates.


One of the hardest parts of doing all of this is finding the right people to do the job, which by its nature is not easy.

It’s also something the county and the jail are hoping to fix.

“It’s always a concern, and every project that we designed in the (collaborative) assessment that would solve our problem, every one of them is waiting to have the staff,” Rowland said.

“Part of what the group is working on is the workforce,” she added. “We are looking at some options through the state for loan forgiveness programs for people who work as therapists. We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to recruit staff.

State lawmakers are also trying to address the issue of finding, training, and retaining healthcare professionals.

During this year’s session that ended earlier this month, the Colorado Legislature approved and Governor Jared Polis signed into law several measures aimed at addressing mental and behavioral health issues.

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MESA COUNTY PRISON / Sentinel Special

Inmates play handball at the Mesa County Jail in Grand Junction. A new law requires inmates to have more recreation time, which contributes to better mental health.

A measure, SB226, partly sponsored by Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and signed by Polis last week, creates a new $61 million scholarship program to help recruit and retain workers in health, including getting tuition assistance to help them get the degrees and certifications they need to get a job.

Although HB1350, jointly sponsored by Reps. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, and Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, also aims to improve the state’s workforce in general, especially in rural areas of the ‘State, he identifies jobs in the healthcare field as a crucial part of this.

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