By Barbara Litrell, Sedona Resident
(August 23, 2014)
Chip Davis and representatives from the Jail District are meeting with groups to explain the ¼ cent increase in sales tax that will be on the November ballot to fund a new jail in Prescott. Of course people will favor a sales tax increase over the alternative, a property tax increase. That’s called a “forced choice” and either way taxes go up and the county gets another jail.
The real question that needs to be asked, and has not been addressed in articles and presentations about the jail tax, is whether taxpayer dollars are best spent on building another jail. Is that what we really need?
About 64% of the prisoners in our county jail suffer from mental health issues. The courts have nowhere to send offenders but jail. While some medical services are provided in the jails, adequate follow up care and services are inadequate because a jail system is not a medical system. A jail solution to a medical issue seems to ensure permanent recidivism rather than recovery.
Of course, the issue is larger than just a jail question — we need court reform so we can separate healthcare cases from criminal cases. We need adequate follow up programs after the patient/prisoners are released. Wouldn’t tax dollars be better spent providing a medical facility instead of a jail for our community members with mental health issues? It would be great to see Yavapai County lead the state in putting our tax dollars where they would really help our neighbors with mental health issues. That would free up about 300+ jail beds and we would not need another jail. I’d quickly vote yes for that!
Required Disclaimer- while I serve on Sedona City Council, the above opinions are my own. I am not speaking for city council or staff.
The purpose of the Camp Verde Facility years ago was to serve the population of Yavapai County. If another facility is needed, why not remodel an existing facility to serve Prescott? Why are so many being jailed? Why are the needs of those with Mental Illness being cut?
A May 2010 survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center, in concert with the National Sheriffs’ Association, revealed that the seriously mentally ill are incarcerated nationally at more than three times the frequency they get treated in hospitals or outpatient clinics.
In Arizona and Nevada, according to that study, that same ratio of incarceration to treatment facilities is more than 10 times — by far the nation’s highest.
It would be hoped that Yavapai County could develop better programs and reforms to help its citizens. This request for this “need” only reflects the continuing downward spiral of care for those who need help not a jail bed! And, statistics suggest that prevention is less costly and worth much more than the jail cure!
Legislators need to sharpen their pencils and come up with legal reforms to give more appropriate sentencing guidelines and better care for those with mental illness. And, our County needs to show leadership and stewardship for its citizens. And call for a study or hearing on this issue with a Citizens Advisory Panel.
I agree. Do you have an action plan in mind?
Barbara is so right. We need mental health care and support, not more jails. Our failure to provide adequate care for our vulnerable populations is a national disgrace. We closed mental hospitals promising to provide humane local, residential care programs. And then we didn’t want to spend the money, so the mentally ill ended up on our streets and in our prisons. We’re more than happy to spend money on jails, but not on treatment. I’m done with that.
Good post Barbara. at least a sales tax can be repealed if they get their problem solved properly. property taxes never go away even if the reason for them does go away. the county loves to change the Mill rate to soak the property owners. this awill take multiple approach to fix the underlying problem.
There is a strong argument to address this hugely complex issue nationwide. The mentally ill are at least five times more likely to be incarcerated than those who are not, and should be diverted from prisons. They can be very dangerous and do not receive the appropriate medications and counseling in jail.
Mentally ill inmates are more likely than others to have been convicted of a violent offense (murder, sexual assault, robbery, or assault). Thirty-three percent of federal inmates identified as mentally ill had been convicted of a violent offense, compared to 13 percent of other inmates. In state facilities, 53 percent of mentally ill inmates had been convicted of a violent offense, compared to 46 percent of other inmates. — Frontline, PBS
A key roadblock in resolving this issue is most state mental health codes require psychiatric hospitals to show clear and convincing evidence that patients being committed involuntarily are either a danger to themselves or others or are so gravely disabled by their illnesses that they are unable to care for themselves. People cannot be hospitalized against their will without legal representation and a full judicial hearing, so opening a psych facility may not suffice. Many are homeless and even when meds are available at no cost, they can refuse to take them.
Some proposed solutions are addressed in the commentary published in the New York Times’ Opinion page, “The Mentally Ill, Behind Bars”, April 6, 2014:
“The full scope of this problem was outlined two years ago in a study of the city jails by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a research and policy group. The study found that inmates with mental disabilities cost three times as much as other inmates, and that their numbers were growing, even as the city jail population as a whole was declining.
The study also found that mentally ill inmates stay in jail nearly twice as long — an average of 112 days compared with 61 days — partly because the mentally ill have less money to put toward bail and fewer connections to family or friends willing to get them out.”
Thank you for your well -reasoned and -researched reply to Barbara’s letter.
Another letter responder reported attending the Sherriff’s presentation to the Cottonwood City Council, and by golly, he was very convincing about needing a jail.
The argument that the mentally ill cannot be hospitalized against their will unless a provable danger to themselves and others is not quite on the mark for seriously mentally ill. What a jail can do–or a mental hospital–is keep track of the person and most of the time ensure they actually take their medication.
Unfortunately, the way that works in jail is mentally ill inmates are three times as likely to kill themselves. Drugs aren’t enough, especially when the type and dosage has not been carefully calibrated by an informed caregiver like successfully-treated people on the outside get. It can take several years of trying different formulations to get one that completely stabilizes the person.
Barbara makes sense in talking about cents, and dollars. It costs the taxpayer (you and me) more to house (warehouse ?) a mentally ill health individual in a jail, with little or no chance for treatment, than to provide the needed treatment in a hospital or center or half-way house. . Without treatment the individual ends up in jail (or the morgue), instead of a healthy member of society. Jail costs more, so why do it ?
Where is the money in treatment ? Building and staffing prisons is big business, with big profits.
A hospital or crisis center takes a person/patient in one door, treats him/her with the aim to get them “normal” again, and out the door, to a healthier life, with needed meds, if necessary < but who among is really “normal,”. and what is “normal” anyway? ;.
Contrast that hospital with a jail or prison. A prison takes a person in one door, and locks it. When that prison is filled, another prison is built, with a never ending supply of tax money – and a never ending supply of incoming persons. By the way, if the number of incoming starts to dwindle – the lobbyists get a law passed making something brand new a new crime.
As a society, we have real issues relating to the treatment of those who suffer from mental health issues. There are fewer beds available for those with mental issues, causing ever-increasing suffering for those with disabilities, and those who interact with them – or try to.
The lack of funding leading to the lack of appropriately available mental health care facilities, and crisis centers, is key in not providing humane treatment for those who suffer from mental health issues.
We have made sure that those with mental health problems have nowhere to go. And then, when they do act out, we are making sure they get put in jail or, just as likely, get shot. A new definition of compassionate conservatism….. We really, really do need more money for mental service, instead of jails.