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County justice system studying mental health alternatives

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Ted Sullivan
February 3, 2011
— Rock County wants to provide treatment to offenders with mental health problems to keep them out of the criminal justice system.

The county received a $50,000 grant to hire a consultant to study the area's needs for mental illness programs in the criminal and juvenile justice systems.


The goal is to divert nonviolent offenders to treatment options to reduce recidivism and help them become productive members of society.


"The last place a person with mental issues should be is in jail," Sheriff Bob Spoden said.


Cmdr. Erik Chellevold said about 13 percent of the jail's inmate population is on medication for mental health issues. He said many inmates also see a visiting psychologist.


Inmates with mental health problems have difficulty with the rest of the jail population and often have to be segregated in private cells, Chellevold said.


The county also spends time and money transporting inmates to mental health institutions and paying for their services, he said.


Rock County doesn't have an adequate system to treat offenders with mental illnesses, Spoden said.


The county's goal is to create treatment programs or a mental health court to help offenders, he said.


The jail doesn't offer enough options for inmates with mental health needs and inmates stay in jail because the county has no place for them, Spoden said.


"We're the final safety net for those who fall through the cracks," he said.


County officials are expected to research programs in Wisconsin and other states, he said.


"There may be programs and there may be communities that have successful mental health alternatives in their system that we can duplicate back here," Spoden said.


Mental health alternatives are the next step after drug and veterans courts were created, he said. The county hopes groundwork will be set for programs in about six months.



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