A severe shortage of psychiatric hospital beds in Colorado is putting a large burden on county jail facilities. When mentally ill inmates commit crimes, the issue of competency may be raised. The process of determining competency can take six months or longer. If the individual is deemed incompetent, the wait list for treatment at the hospital to provide restoration of competency can be longer. Someone with significant mental health concerns could be incarcerated for nearly a year before their case is resolved. The jail environment is not designed to address specialized mental health needs.
The Larimer County Jail has approximately 240 to 270 inmates a month with mental health issues. In a year, the jail will handle about 2,870 inmates with mental health disorders.
In 2010, the Community Mental Health Criminal Justice Initiative funded a Criminal Justice Clinical Specialist hired by Larimer Center for Mental Health. The Criminal Justice Clinical Specialist, Justin Shaffer, interfaces with the jail population and liaises with the courts concerning the mental health needs of the chronically mentally ill. This position provides continuity of care for mentally ill inmates with the goal that they remain out of jail. The Criminal Justice Clinical Specialist works closely with the attorneys involved in the case and advises the judge of mental health needs. With this intervention, cases are resolved more quickly using an appropriate sanction combined with a community referral for continued mental health services. By resolving these cases expeditiously, the Larimer County Jail realizes a significant cost savings.
In a recent example of this initiative, a chronically mentally ill inmate was booked at the Larimer County Jail. This inmate had been involved with the mental health system most of their adult life. Their criminal behavior appeared to be directly related to mental illness. This person was known by jail staff from incarcerations occurring five years prior that lasted 260 combined days. Prior to the most recent arrest, this person was successful in the community. Due to the efforts of the Criminal Justice Clinical Specialist, Larimer Center for Mental Health, Larimer County Jail, the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office and the presiding judge, competency was addressed early in the case, the evaluation was ordered and completed in a expedient manner, and the inmate was released to a stable environment that is better suited to manage mental health needs. This individual will remain at an assisted living facility until a bed becomes available at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. This collaborative process took less than seven weeks and represents a significant cost savings for Larimer County taxpayers.