El Paso County, Colorado Commissioner Sallie Clark sees the impact mental illness has on her community and on individuals every day and knows more can be done to help.
“We have to look at the challenge of mental illness in multiple ways. First, it’s a public safety issue—we all have an obligation to keep our community safe,” she said. “Second, it’s a taxpayer issue—we must be fiscally responsible with our taxpayer dollars by putting money where it will have the greatest impact. And third, it’s a human issue—we want people to receive the treatment and supports they need to be successful in the community and stay out of jail.”
Commissioner Clark said she became passionate about reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in jails when she spoke with Judge Deborah Grohs from the 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs about the mental health court Grohs had implemented for El Paso and Teller Counties in 2012.
“She started the mental health court because she was tired of seeing people go to jail and prison for crimes that were a result of their mental illness,” Commissioner Clark said. “She wanted to create a place where individuals could get a proper diagnosis, the right medication, and a host of supportive services such as housing.”
The mental health court is a post-adjudication, co-occurring mental and substance use disorder problem-solving court that strives to serve people with a severe and persistent mental illness by helping them deal with their illness and stop the repeating cycle that returns them to the criminal justice system. During the 14-month program, participants receive intensive individual and group therapy that addresses their mental health, substance use, and criminal thinking issues. Participants are required to appear before the judge, report to their probation officer, and meet with their case manager each week.
Commissioner Clark urges her fellow county leaders to find innovative, sustainable, and fiscally responsible ways to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.
“Jails are not equipped to effectively treat people with mental illnesses,” she said. “We must find effective, long-term solutions that keep people who don’t belong in jail out of jail and get them the help they need.”