Is Klamath County on the right track to reducing inmate population?

From the Klamath Falls Herald and News
March 2017

By Kristi Cardwell, who is a current graduate student at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. She is a graduate from Oregon Institute of Technology with a Bachelor’s In Applied Psychology and has lived in Klamath Falls, Oregon since 1998.

The State of Oregon requested that specific counties in Oregon send fewer prisoners to state run prisons.

This request was made in 2015 in hopes to prevent the state spending additional funding to expand current bed capacity at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras.

In early 2016, 800 inmates were moved to a bigger facility to contain the influx of prisoners at a cost of $2.5 million and by the end of 2016 the state approved an additional 200 beds costing another $3 million.

In an effort to combat the increase of inmates in both a prison and jail setting, Klamath County with Klamath Basin Behavioral Health (KBBH) has implemented a Jail Diversion program, an Assertive Community Treatment team (ACT), a Mobile Crisis Team and Mental Health Court.

The purpose of these programs is to require misdemeanor and low-level offenders to receive the option of mandated treatment alternative to jail time. For felony and mid-level offenders who pose minimal risk, the option of being monitored in the community by the Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB) is preferable to jail or prison time.

Many people still have the idea that if you have a mental illness and you commit a crime that jail or prison is the best option to house these individuals and oppose the idea of maintaining these individuals within the community. Those in opposition point out that people could attempt to feign mental illness when committing crimes to avoid punishment.

In May of 2015 House Bill 2420 was passed to allow local community mental health programs to evaluate defendants locally instead of sending them to a state hospital facility which saves taxpayers money. During these evaluations a complete mental health assessment is conducted by a licensed therapist qualified in making valid mental health diagnoses and that is just what is happening in Klamath County.

Clients are successfully being managed within our community under the supervision of KBBH case managers, Klamath County Community Corrections, Southern Oregon Monitoring Service, and various other treatment partners. Together all of these programs save the taxpayers money.

Oregon Department of Corrections reports it costs taxpayers $94.55 a day per inmate or approximately $34,500 a year. The United States Courts report the same offenders in a community setting would cost approximately $3.90 a day per offender or approximately $1,425 a year. With community based programs it is clear to see that a savings of approximately $33,000 a year per offender would be a desirable outcome to taxpayers.

Mental health clients in a prison or jail facility do not receive the treatment they need while incarcerated. Correctional staff is rarely appropriately trained to handle mental illness and those who need treatment typically do not receive it. Un-medicated or under-medicated mental illness can worsen leading to further offenses when released.

The majority of offenses are due to probation or parole violations for non-compliance of release agreements. According to the Bureau of Justice nearly a quarter of mentally ill inmates had served three or more prior incarcerations.

With community based treatment programs such as ACT, PSRB and jail diversion case managers ensure that clients follow through with mandated treatment judgments such as psychotherapy, drug or alcohol treatment, and psychiatric medication management.

With the upcoming appointment of a new District Attorney to Klamath County our community leaders need to ensure that an appropriate candidate is put in place by our Gov. Kate Brown.

We need a District Attorney that can support and stand behind the idea of Smart Decarceration not only to save the taxpayers thousands of dollars but to ensure that all people receive the adequate treatment and are not just housed in jails and prisons as an easy fix.