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El Paso Jail Works to Divert Mentally Ill People

Aug 1st, 2010 | Category: El Paso County, Medical care

Daniel Novick-KFOX News Weekend Anchor/Reporter, Posted: 4:51 pm MDT July 26, 2010, KFOX News

EL PASO, Texas —

Four out of ten inmates in the El Paso County jails have some sort of a mental health issue, according to the county. Jesus Guiroga handles all of the intake and crisis services at El Paso Mental Health And Mental Retardation. He’s seen the mental health problem in the jails on a daily basis, but he said much of it can be prevented.

“By diverting these individuals to the appropriate care,” they don’t end up in jails, Guiroga told KFOX.
Guiroga said it starts with the first responders.
“Training the police officer, the EMS worker to actually identify those that are mentally ill and rather than send them to jail, they may actually send them to a psychiatric facility,” he said.
He said some of that is going on now, but much more training needs to be done, because 41 percent of those in El Paso’s jails receive some kind of mental health care. That’s about 811 inmates every day. Of those, 132 are diagnosed with the most severe mental health issues, like being bipolar, schizophrenic or substance abusers.
MHMR has one full time case worker at the jail.
“By getting the proper care, they can actually not end up in the jail system long term and it saves money, not just to the jail system, but to the community as a whole,” said Guiroga.
That’s the goal of a collaboration between the county, MHMR, and a dozen others that was created on Monday to try to save money long term.
But to do that, everyone involved needs more money up front: more money to train more first responders, more money to add more case workers.
“It will obviously take an infusion of cash, which is why we’re looking at the grant applications, hoping that the federal government or the state government might assist us in that arena for the long term,” said assistant El Paso County attorney Holly Lytle.
Lytle said by having the collaboration, it will show those providing grants for mental health funding that El Paso County is committed to dealing with mental health issues.

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