Yakima looks to utilize program for mentally ill criminals

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima wants to bring back an old method of treating the mentally ill. And it won't cost the city a thing. Yakima wants to cut the revolving door to the jail if people need psychological help instead.

The goal is to give people the help they need. That's why Yakima wants to treat mentally ill criminals instead of booking them in jail.

"If these individuals were to get the proper treatment, they wouldn't be committing these crimes," said Yakima Senior Assistant Attorney Cynthia Martinez.

Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health is offering a behavioral health diversion program. Yakima was part of this program back in 2007. It was cut in 2009 during the recession.

When the program first started, it wasn't used as much as Yakima hoped. YPD officers decide who is fit for treatment and who should go to jail. Not everyone police arrest qualifies.

"They have to recognize is this person in a mental health crisis? And then second, is this person eligible? Is this the sort of crime that's eligible?" said Cynthia.

By restarting the behavioral health diversion program, Yakima will send officers through training. Someone who is mentally ill and commits a felony would not be offered a chance to enroll in the program. Diversion is voluntary. But it could prevent someone from being prosecuted.

Treating the mentally ill is a priority nationwide. It's to end the cycle that sends people in and out of jail without ever treating the illness.

Yakima spent more than $50,000 just this summer to house 58 patients at the jail. If the diversion program is approved, potential savings to Yakima could be four-times that each year.

Yakima City Council will vote on the proposal Tuesday. If approved, services will start next month. The program would be in place for at least a year.