County News

Over the last few years, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office has been at the forefront of the battle against criminalizing mental health conditions — and now, thanks to a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, YCSO is getting a helping hand.

With the funds, the YCSO Mental Health Collaboration Program enters its planning and implementation stage. The ultimate goal of the program is to support law enforcement responses such as mental health courts, pre-trial services, diversion and alternative prosecution and sentencing programs, treatment accountability services, training for officers and reentry services to address mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

In concert with the Sheriff’s Mental Health Task Force — which is itself comprised of various Yavapai County justice system and community partners — the grant may allow YCSO to provide mental health evaluations and other services to over 1,000 inmates identified as needing assistance. It’s a three-year program.

“One of the major goals is to prevent revolving door incarceration involving someone who may be delusional, or seriously depressed, suicidal and making threats,” YCSO Media Relations Coordinator Dwight D’Evelyn said. “In many cases, deputies have no alternative except to arrest the individual who then comes to jail, gets stabilized on medication and is eventually released back into the community with few, if any, follow-up treatment options.”

In many cases, D’Evelyn added, appropriate treatment options are too costly for the individual, resulting in little help and possible re-incarceration.

The grant will allow for more efficient identification of individuals suffering from mental health conditions.

“Mental Health First Aid training is a priority for all first responders and detention staff,” D’Evelyn said. “Uniformed personnel will be trained to recognize the presence of a potential mental health issue and how to interact with mentally ill offenders. This education is expected to result in an increase in safety for both officers and offenders and a reduction in crime and criminal charges against known mentally ill offenders.”

According to D’Evelyn, the grant application noted that YCSO screens inmates within 72 hours of booking to determine if they need mental health support. Following the results of the screening, a treatment plan specific to the individual is generated. The grant allows for increased pairing of inmate and mental health providers, who will provide treatment and provide progress reports to public defenders and courts.

Sheriff Scott Mascher said, “Should the jails be the de facto mental health treatment centers? I don’t think we should be. Are we criminalizing the treatment of mental health? Remember, mental illness isn’t a crime. But if you get charged with a crime because of your mental health, it falls onto a criminal institution to provide treatment.

“As a result, the detention center has become the largest mental health treatment facility in the county. This must change.”


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