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JoCo program helps jail crowding

BY JORDAN MICKLE | SEPTEMBER 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Diverting mentally ill inmates out of the Johnson County Jail is saving the county almost half a million dollars a year and helping with overcrowding.

The jail-alternative program, established under the Mental Health Department in 2005, helps inmates who are mentally disabled by making sure they get the treatment they need and help to get them out of incarceration, because their mental-health symptoms could worsen the longer they're locked up, said Pat Harney, the chairman of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

Jessica Peckover, team leader of the jail-alternative program, told the supervisors Thursday the most recent cost of a jail-bed day — when an inmate occupies a holding space — for the jail is reported as being $64.60 per day. The number of jail-bed days used by the 660 inmates prior to the jail-alternative program was 30,308 beds used in a year. After one year of the jail-alternative program, only 10,296 jail-bed days were used. The difference saved roughly $1.3 million in additional costs, Peckover said.

"Even taking into account the cost of the program since inception, there is still about $450,000 of cost savings," she said.

Peckover said there are a number of unquantifiable cost-savings that include preventing repeat offenses, lawsuits, psychiatric hospitalizations, and committals of the mentally disabled inmates. Other savings include promoting community wellness, public safety, and the enhancement of inmates' quality of life.

Supervisor Sally Stutsman, a strong supporter of the program, said it focuses most of its time helping these individuals at the Health and Human Services Building, but they also spend time at the jail or other communities.

"Not only does this help alleviate the crowding, but it's also diverting people who shouldn't be in jails," she said. "It's better for the individual because there's a number of people related to criminal activity that have mental issues, and this really becomes a preventative program for those in need."

Stutsman said that, without a doubt, the jail would be more overcrowded without this program.

"The community wanted us to create some alternative to putting people out of jail, and this is the best alternative that we came up with," she said.

Harney also supports the program and said it's helpful for Johnson County.

"The idea is to keep them out of jails and institutions, and I'm really glad we have this jail-alternative program in place," he said.


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