Lane County Jail expands treatment for inmates with mental health needs

EUGENE, Ore. -- About 60 percent of inmates at the Lane County Jail have mental health needs, according to Sheriff Byron Trapp.

Trapp said that's double what it was 10 years ago.

"The criminal justice system and jails and prisons have become the defacto mental health facilities in our communities absent community health systems that aren't funded otherwise," Trapp said. "Our medical expenses are significantly higher than they would be if mental health was treated outside of the facility and it gives us challenges of managing inmate population."

It was a hot topic at Monday's State of the County address.

"We also added three mental health positions in the jail to work directly with offenders who may need treatment and referrals in order to break the cycle of incarceration," Lane County Commission Chair Faye Stewart said in his address.

Now the jail has more staff, an emphasis on socialization and behavioral therapy, and most importantly, continued stability after inmates leave jail.

"They will hopefully have been able to obtain housing, continued mental health treatment, physician appointments, transportation, all the things they need to continue outside the jail in a stable environment," Trapp said.

On the front end, Trapp said it's things like special court programs that make a difference.

"They've been proved to be effective and they remove people from the criminal justice system often forever," Trapp said.

But District Attorney Patty Perlow said the mental health court in Lane County is off to a slow start, without enough money to run effectively.

"We really need adequate resources to make that program grow and to provide help to the people who are in the program," Perlow said.

Because when these individuals don't get the help they need, Trapp said: "They quickly degrade in their ability to maintain where they are and quickly find themselves back in front of law enforcement and ultimately back in the jail," which puts a burden on the jail, the county and the tax payers.

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