Clackamas jailers remain inadequately trained for mentally ill inmates, review finds

From the Oregonian, March 1, 2011

Clackamas County’s jailers are inadequately trained to deal with mentally ill inmates, according to a grand jury convened annually to evaluate county corrections.

READ – Washington County grand jury – 2009 report.
READ – Washington County grand jury – 2010 report.

The 2010 Corrections Grand Jury report criticizes the county for failing to put jail deputies through “crisis intervention training” despite previous warnings by the 2008 and 2009 grand juries. “The CIT training has not been completed for corrections deputies, with no completion date set, and there are no plans for additional training in dealing with the mentally ill,” the report says.

Clackamas County jail inmates await transfer. About one-fourth of the jail population at any one time suffers from mental illness, according to the sheriff's office.

Clackamas County jail inmates await transfer. About one-fourth of the jail population at any one time suffers from mental illness, according to the sheriff's office.

However, Sheriff Craig Roberts defended his office’s efforts, saying the training is on-going and a high priority for deputies. He said a weeklong crisis intervention training class was launched Monday at the sheriff’s training center. Enrolled in the class, he said, were some county jail deputies, along with deputies from the county’s parole and probation staff, Columbia County and officers from Tigard

“Getting everyone through the 40-hour course is going to take time,” Roberts said. “Class size is intentionally small because it is so intensive in the various scenarios they work through. But we certainly are committed to getting everyone through the training.”

Capt. Mike Alexander, Clackamas County Jail commander, said jail supervisors – 24 lieutenants and sergeants – already have taken crisis intervention training. “We had them go through first so that someone with that training would be on duty during every shift at the jail,” Alexander said. “Now, we’re beginning to send the 69 floor deputies through the course, too.”

Roberts said the sheriff’s office has been more focused on sending patrol deputies through the training. He explained that patrol deputies usually work alone and may not have any help in dealing with a mentally ill person. Jail deputies, he said, have the benefit of working with trained supervisors.

Roberts said the number of mentally ill inmates is increasing. He said that evaluations of incoming inmates shows that 18 to 30 percent at any given time suffer from severe mental illness. Anywhere from 50 to 80 percent may be suffering minor to moderate problems.

He said the county spends more than $140,000 a year on psychiatric medications for inmates — down from more than $180,000 before the county switched vendors.

Meanwhile, Roberts said the sheriff’s office and the county’s Community Health are hiring two mental health professionals who will work in the field with deputies. Two candidates have been selected and will begin work as soon as they pass the background checks.

The crisis clinicians then evaluate people who may need help and refer them to resources available to them. The program is aimed at keeping mentally ill people who don’t belong in the criminal justice system from draining resources while direct them to appropriate help.

The county launched the program last year, but the lone crisis clinician returned to California.