I-Team: High Percentage of Jail Population Suffer Mental Issues - 8 News NOW

I-Team: High Percentage of Jail Population Suffer Mental Issues

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Clark County Detention Center in downtown Las Vegas. Clark County Detention Center in downtown Las Vegas.
On a typical day, more than 700 of the jail's inmates have mental health issues. On a typical day, more than 700 of the jail's inmates have mental health issues.
"Eighteen to 25, 26 percent of our jail population, on any given day, is being given psychiatric medication," said Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie. "Eighteen to 25, 26 percent of our jail population, on any given day, is being given psychiatric medication," said Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie. Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.

Ed. Note: The national debate about gun violence and gun control has generated strong emotions on all sides following the tragedies in Connecticut and Colorado. To examine these volatile issues, earlier this year, the I-Team launched an ongoing project called Guns of Nevada. At the center of each gun massacre is a story of the holes in the mental health system. Nevada ranks near the bottom when it comes to mental health services. You will find extensive information in The Mental Health Debate.

LAS VEGAS -- Gun rights advocates say mental illness is the real reason behind mass murder incidents such as Newtown, Conn. There are strong indications that most, if not all, of the accused killers in recent mass murders had severe mental or emotional issues.

Nevada Received Poor Grades on Mental Illness Report Cards

Nevada is notoriously stingy when it comes to support for mental health services. It already ranked among the worst in the nation for mental health programs, and then another $80 million was chopped during the past few years. What it means, is that, instead of helping the mentally ill in hospitals or clinics, taxpayers foot the bill to keep them in what has become the number one mental health provider -- the Clark County jail.

Detention Center Provides Mental Health Services But at a Cost

The people who work at the Clark County Detention Center see it all. In 2012, the jail averaged 3,500 inmates per day, many of them angry, uncooperative and with serious mental baggage.

"Eighteen to 25, 26 percent of our jail population, on any given day, is being given psychiatric medication," said Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.

On a typical day, more than 700 of the jail's inmates have mental health issues, and close to 600 of those are given psychiatric medication.

Back in the 80s, President Ronald Reagan spurred a massive policy of de-institutionalization, when he emptied out the mental hospitals. Where did they go? These days, more than 30 percent of the homeless living on streets have mental disorders, mostly untreated, which makes it inevitable that many end up behind bars.

"The concept was de-institutionalization, but what has happened in reality is re-institutionalization and the new institution is the jail or prison," said Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

Moody, who oversees the detention center, says Metro has no choice but to provide first-rate mental health services, both to comply with court decrees and for the protection of inmates and staff. Everyone who is booked into the jail gets a physical and mental evaluation during initial screening. A private contractor with a staff of 13 mental health professionals works with jail officers to control, evaluate, and in many cases, medicate those in need.

The detention center was the first in the country to provide its staff with crisis intervention training, or CIT, which prepares officers to deal with people going through mental crises. For many of the mentally ill, this is the most care they will get anywhere. It's expensive, costing Metro more than $2 million per year, and is a direct result of Nevada's notoriously underfunded mental health services.

"It is a revolving door. We see folks time after time ... it's one of those systemic problems, that more often than not, the jails and prisons end up dealing with persons that have mental illness rather than preventive measures on the front end, due to lack of funding," said Capt. Frank Reagan with the Clark County Detention Center. "You end up paying for it one way or another."

Moody emphasizes that most of the mentally ill are not dangerous so long as they are being treated, but the average stay at the jail is 12 days. An inmate who is stabilized while in jail is turned loose onto the streets with no follow up.

"In those violent encounters with the police and the mentally ill, there is statistically a very good chance that someone is going to be injured or killed," he said.

Every now and then, one of those who falls through the cracks, and snaps, such as Zane Floyd, an ex Marine with a history of mental issues who mowed down four people at a Sahara Avenue grocery store.

Taking a Closer Look at Mass Murders

There are many differences in cases of mass murders, but there's at least one common denominator.

"When you look down the line, just about every one had mental health issues that weren't a surprise to people. They knew these people had their issues," Gillespie said.

In Nevada, the pro-mental health lobby doesn't have much clout, which is why those budgets are so often the first to be cut. But make no mistake -- taxpayers still pay, one way or another. Paying to house a mental patient in the jail is much more expensive than some alternatives.

 

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