Carson City’s year-old experiment in dealing with the chronically mentally ill who clog the jail appears to be working better than even Sheriff Ken Furlong had hoped.
Carson City created the Forensic Assessment Services Triage Team to both stabilize mental patients who land in jail and ensure they have follow-up support after they are released.
Dr. Joe McEllistrem, the jail’s director of Forensic Health Services, said those people are mostly well-known to law enforcement because their mental illnesses repeatedly bring them into conflict with other citizens and deputies. Most of the time, he said, their offenses are low-level, and often they get released before a treatment program can be put together.
For too long, Furlong said, those with mental health problems literally filled the empty beds in the Carson jail.
”We were maxed out at the time this proposal was made to me,” he told the Legislative Interim Committee on Health Wednesday.
He said in the year since the program began, the jail population has dropped by 22-23 percent.
“I don’t know if we have enough information to raise a blue flag, but it’s significant that no other factors from the law enforcement side have changed,” Furlong said.
McEllistrem, who runs the program in cooperation with state officials, said the jail had a solid record of stabilizing mental health patients before they were released. Jail personnel also set up services for those inmates when they were released.
But until FASTT, he said, there was no follow-up to make sure they continued taking their medicines and went to the community programs designed to help them.
“That was our Achilles’ heel,” he told the committee chaired by Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas.
FASTT, he said, changed that by “breaking down the silos” separating law enforcement and those community services including Carson Counseling Center, Carson Mental Health and the Ron Wood Family Center.
Now those programs are in the jail working with inmate patients before their release and following up after release to ensure those patients stick with their programs.
“We also send teams out into the community,” McEllistrem said.
Furlong said the result is that far fewer of those inmates get into trouble in weeks if not just days after their release, improving their chances for a better life and relieving the pressure on Carson City’s jail.
McEllistrem said he is working with Douglas County officials on coordinating the services available there to help inmates with mental health problems.
Pointing to the huge problems Clark County has with mentally ill defendants, Jones said, “the only question I have is, How do we scale it up to Las Vegas?”
“I don’t know if we have enough information to raise a blue flag, but it’s significant that no other factors from the law enforcement side have changed.”
Carson City sheriff