Walla Walla County undersheriff: Mental-health problems tax county jail

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WALLA WALLA -- It's not the job of Walla Walla County Jail employees to provide mental-health services, nor is it their area of expertise.

Nonetheless, local law enforcement personnel often end up dealing with incarcerated people who should, instead, be in a treatment setting, said Walla Walla County Undersheriff Edward Freyer. "Here it just falls in our lap and it costs taxpayers a lot of money to treat those persons. It impacts our resources and it impacts the community."

Inmates in mental health crisis "require a while different approach, in how they have to be watched and in how they have to be treated," Freyer said, speaking on behalf of jail Superintendent Keilen Harmon.

Those cases need consistent monitoring, as often as every 15 minutes, which has to be accomplished with limited staffing.

There can be every possible manifestation of mental distress, including attempted suicide, self-inflicted injuries, destruction of property, refusing to take medication, confrontation with staff and other inmates and food throwing, "You name it," Freyer said. "It creates a whole range of issues ... it just impacts our entire operation over there."

It's not unusual to see mentally ill people cycle through the judicial system every 60 days or so, he added. "Then we are facing the same problem all over again."

Recently the majority of inmates during one week were people who needed to see health-care providers, not jailers, Freyer said, adding no one could discern a reason for the spike.

The tax increase initiative proposed by the Department of Human Services would provide "badly needed resources," he feels. "These are our citizens and they need our attention."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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