Weber County Jail

The interior of the Weber County Jail is shown in 2004. Since 2011, jail policy has prohibited news photography inside the jail.

SALT LAKE CITY — Intensive up-front screening for mental health and substance abuse problems has been identified as the top priority in a state examination of county jails.

The state launched a similar screening effort under 2016’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, but the money has dried up.

“The funding isn’t really there anymore, so the jails wouldn’t be able to do this if we recommend it,” said Mary Lou Emerson, a state official coordinating the study into how Utah jails handle substance-using inmates.

“There is a recognition there would need to be additional resources,” said Emerson, director of the Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council.

The workgroup that lawmakers created to look into jail substance abuse met Monday to refine potential proposals to submit to the Legislature for consideration in the 2019 session. With Senate Bill 205, lawmakers were reacting to a spate of deaths in county jails, which hit a record 27 in 2016.

“The group is pretty focused in on the need to do screening on individuals for substance abuse and mental health,” Emerson said.

She noted the workgroup was heeding the results of a related report on Utah jail deaths from 2013 through 2017 that showed suicide is by far the most common cause.

Better screening can help jails identify more inmates with suicide risk and those with potentially deadly opiate withdrawal conditions.

In 2016, the state spent $2.5 million on an intensive jail intake screening program that helped counties improve the reviews during the booking process, said Dave Walsh, deputy director of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

The Weber County Jail was set up as a hub to provide screening help to smaller jails.

But funding for that program declined to about $800,000 in the most recent year, and Weber’s jail is no longer providing the hub service because of the funding cut.

Weber did receive $294,000 this year and is focusing on screening with an eye toward reducing repeat criminal offenses by inmates, Walsh said.

The workgroup meets again on Nov. 28 to finalize recommendations to the Legislature.

(3) comments

cynthia

By attending this meeting I found that there are concerns:
I don't know if you are part of this or not, but this is what I found to be disturbing, "Excuses, without solution. " looking at what the CCJJ came up with as far as statistics was alarming and questionable. Suicide is the #1 cause of death followed by illness, other/unknown, alcohol/drug intoxication and the accident aka my daughter Heather Ashton Miller. I believe that Suicide and intoxication go hand in hand with mental illness. Now, the problem is an inept staff it goes from arresting officer, intake and medical due to lack of not only policies and procedures but training and there is biased staff. My solution is to establish The NCCHC guidelines, take questionable arrests to Hospital for testing evaluation. If already there in jail and notice unusual behavior, when in doubt ship them out to the hospital. That is a way to start, there will always a way to improve. Keep growing, keep our loved ones here with us. Everyone has the ability to grow, learn, find compassion, help others. I understand that the counties are responsible for their jails and how they're going to run them. This is a law and I believe that the State needs to step in and mandate the policies and procedures as a state law, followed with punishment if not followed and reward for following

DeathInstitute

Improved intake assessments does not address the sub-standard and conflicting policy and procedures in place specific to inadequate medical and mental health care delivered, the ability of inmates to provide written request for medical and mental health care, and the out-and-out refusal of the correctional side (in conjunction with mental and medical contracts) to provide much needed medical and mental health medications. Three entities; three sets of different policies and procedures, and zero cross communication between medical, mental health and correctional personnel. Net result? Delayed and denied medical and mental health care. Throwing money at the problem and failing to address the foundational problems will not improve the death stats. They never have. Never will.

DeathInstitute

Funding is not the only problem; it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Regardless of the amount of money your legislators “throw at this issue” it’s still not the central issue.

“Intensive up-front screening for mental health and substance abuse problems has been identified as the top priority…The group is pretty focused in on the need to do screening on individuals for substance abuse and mental health…”

This historically has been the problem—for years. This is NOT a new problem. You consistently have “front-line” individuals ill-equipped and untrained to be screening medical and mental health care issues of any kind. This points directly to contract status of medical and mental health care providers contracted by the state/county for county jails. Qualified medical /mental health care personnel should be performing intake assessments—not correctional officers. This also brings to light the question of what (if any) jail management systems are being utilized and the extent of information the jail/county “buys into” from the vendor who is providing the jail management system.

“…refine potential proposals to submit to the Legislature for consideration in the 2019 session…With Senate Bill 205…”

Proposals provided by whom? The legislature is looking at what exactly? Throwing money at the problem without addressing the key details systemic to the overall problem merely is a “quick temporary fix” to a problem that is actually not being addressed.

“…the workgroup was heeding the results of a related report on Utah jail deaths from 2013 through 2017 that showed suicide is by far the most common cause. Better screening can help jails identify more inmates with suicide risk and those with potentially deadly opiate withdrawal conditions.”

Improved intake assessments does not address the sub-standard and conflicting policy and procedures in place specific to inadequate medical and mental health care delivered, the ability of inmates to provide written request for medical and mental health care, or the jail refusing to provide the required forms to the inmates to request medical and mental health care, and the out-and-out refusal of the correctional side (in conjunction with mental and medical contracts) to provide much needed medical and mental health medications. Three entities; three sets of different policies and procedures, and zero cross communication between medical, mental health and correctional personnel. Net result? Delayed and denied medical and mental health care, suicides and deaths not by suicide. Throwing money at the problem and failing to address the foundational problems will not improve the death stats in these jurisdictions. They never have. Never will.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.