Yakima County is trying to figure out mental health in the justice system

Yakima County is trying to figure out mental health in the justice system.

YAKIMA, Wash.- Court officials and mental health professionals in Yakima County are trying to figure out how to best handle people in the justice system who suffer from mental health illnesses.

Over 30 people from different agencies such as Comprehensive Health and our emergency responders got together to break down what barriers they are facing when trying to properly treat people with mental health issues.

Harold Delia is a consultant for the Yakima County courts and he wants to see people with mental health issues get help instead of being thrown in jail.

"That's the definition of insanity,” he said. “Keep locking people up, the same person over and over and expecting different results. It's not going to happen."

He said it costs $86 a night to hold someone in jail and if you include the cost of getting them into court, it becomes six times more expensive than getting them treatment.

Delia was part of a group of people from Yakima County that attended a workshop with the MacArthur Foundation.

Yakima County was one of 20 counties selected to compete for a piece of a $75 million safety and justice fund grant through the foundation.

Prosecuting attorney Joe Brusic said the workshop was used to make a plan of how everyone can use the money to fix the problems with the system.

"Evaluating them and determining problems they do have helps us create more public safety by knowing who they are and what they are doing," he said.

Brusic said community safety is still at the top of his list, so people arrested for violent crimes will still be jailed.

However, that may not be the answer for those that commit minor crimes just so they can get off the streets.

"The simple answer is to punish and ask for the most punishment that we can get, but we also have to look at potential other answers that makes the community safer in the long run," Brusic said.

Courtney Hesla with Comprehensive Health runs a mental health facility next to the fairgrounds but its leaders know there needs to be more options for people in jail.

"We know that while we offer mental health services in the jail setting, it voluntary and not everyone seeks that out when they are in jail," she said.

Delia expects the county to receive anywhere from $1.5 to $3 million and knows changes can only be made if they can find a way to break the cycle.

"Our jail is not a mental health institution,” he said. “It is not a drug and alcohol treatment institution, but we expect our jail to do these things."

He said about 70 percent of the people in the Yakima County jail have been diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Also, most people that have them are homeless as well. So finding a way to help people get off the streets before they get into jail is another way to help solve the problem.

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