MONTROSE – Mental health specialists are stepping out of their clinics and into facilities where they can address substance abuse and mental health issues up close and personal – in jails.
Full-time therapists from The Center for Mental Health now have offices in the Montrose and Delta county jails, with part-time therapists working in Gunnison and San Miguel county jails, thanks to a five-year State health grant.
“Our goal for years has been to integrate better into the community, to reach a much larger population and see people before they get more extreme,” said Patsy Boyle, deputy director of clinical programs for the Montrose-based center, which serves six counties.
The grant pays for the therapists, allowing the center to work with incarcerated populations through a voluntary substance abuse and mental health screening process, in an effort to set those inmates up for success once they are released, she said.
In Montrose, therapist Leah Goetz is on the job.
“A lot of clients grow up in families where addictions are the norm,” Goetz said. “They don't learn life and coping skills because they have parents that have problems of their own. This is about breaking that cycle.”
The grant's primary goal is to address substance abuse.
Goetz goes into the jail-pods and explains the center’s programs to the inmates. Those interested go through a screening process that uses a device called Patient Tools. (See side box on Patient Tools.)
The screening process identifies substance abuse, as well as mental health issues.
Ninety-five percent of all inmates screened since the program started in October of last year test positive and are accepted into the program.
But it's not just substance abuse that is addressed.
Eighty to 90 percent of those with substance abuse problems also test positive for mental health issues, and there must be treatment for both substance abuse and mental health for inmates to be successful, upon their release, Goetz said.
Through individual and group therapy sessions, Goetz teaches inmates about emotion regulation and distress tolerance.
“I teach healthy ways to respond rather than to react,” she said. “The education piece is how the brain works and how it's hijacked … and how it is all related to substance abuse.”
Goetz is hopeful that the newly administered program will show favorable results, and reports a high level of interest, from inmates.
Montrose County Jail Administrator Jim Gerlach also is hopeful.
Gerlach, who has worked in jails since the 1980s, says that direct supervision and programing are the essence of a well-managed jail.
“Jails in themselves have management issues, because you have people that don't want to be here and people making them stay here,” he said. “This jail will always continue to be a jail, but,” he said of the program, “I think this can reduce the recidivism and give the inmates other avenue to take when they are released.”
Goetz and Gerlach work different jobs, but their missions are similar, Boyle explains. Both want inmates to be released to lead successful lives, and together they balance education and punishment in an effort to achieve that, she said.
Within the jail, Gerlach reports seeing results – starting with better-behaved inmates –that make his and other officers' jobs easier,
“It provides inmates with someone that's not staff to talk with about their issues,” Gerlach said.
Goetz serves as a mediator at the jail, offering insight to Gerlach and his staff on why inmates display particular behaviors, Gerlach said. Inmates seem to have better attitudes toward one another, as well, which is a possible outcome of group therapy, he said.
“I think this is a first step,” Gerlach said of the program.
Area mental health specialists agree, and are currently working to incorporate a second step to the program, to which end the Center for Mental Health has hired a care coordinator who will work as a case manager for inmates once they are released. That person is expected to start shortly, according to the center.
Currently, the jail-based therapists work with the inmates while they are in jail. Once the inmates are released, the therapists help connect them with the center and its programs.
But what the center has found is that there are other circumstances in inmates' lives that can make it difficult for them to continue with their treatment, such as unfavorable living conditions and unemployment.
The new care coordinator will help clients find drug-free housing, and connect them with employment resources, as well as health care and government services.
Gerlach is hopeful that once the center sees results from its clients outside the jail, he'll see fewer repeat offenders in the jail.
“These people seem to want to change, but they don't know what to do. Rather than focusing on the problem, they'll be focusing on a solution,” said Mary Gnandt, director of community-based and integrated services for the center.