By Tom Adams and KVAL.com
EUGENE, Ore. – Here’s the problem: an estimated 2 million people with serious mental illnesses are locked up in county jails in America every year.
“Jails have become the largest provider of mental health treatment in our nation,” said County Commissioner Jay Bozievich.
What is the situation in Lane County?
In a survey conducted from 2003 to 2005, 30 percent of jail inmates had a mental health illness.
Sheriff Byron Trapp says that figure is closer to 60 percent now.
“It’s not the right way to address our mentally ill in the community,” Trapp said.
To fight back, the county has signed on to the Stepping Up initiative.
The move formalizes steps the county has taken to try to get ahead of the problem.
For example, last year the jail added three county mental health case workers. Their job is getting treatment to the incarcerated.
Then the goal is to introduce inmates to “programs available on the outside that we can get these folks plugged into, continued care,” Trapp said.
Outside agencies are also helping inmates, like the new Hourglass Community Crisis Center and the recent launch of the Oaks at 14th program for inmates re-entering society.
Bottom line, the goal is simple: cut the number of people in the county jail with mental illness.
“Resolve the underlying issue that got them in trouble with the law in the first place,” Bozievich said.
And that in turn will leave more jail beds for the really bad guys.
“We would have more jail beds available for people,” Trapp said, “who choose to commit crimes.”