Las Vegas Jail: An Ineffective Mental Hospital


On a recent morning, 621 inmates at Las Vegas’s Clark County Detention Center – of 3,066 total – were diagnosed as mentally ill and prescribed psychotropic medications, reports the Las Vegas Sun. That's one in five. On some days, the ratio is closer to one in four. By way of comparison, the state's psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas has space for 204 patients. The jail, says chief psychiatrist Keith Courtney, is “the largest mental health facility in Southern Nevada.” It is also the most expensive and least effective.

The county spends $4 million a year on psychiatric treatment at the jail. It costs taxpayers $142 a day to keep an inmate at the jail and $85 on average to medicate each one diagnosed as mentally ill. An inmate in an isolation room has cost the system at least $32,000 in the past year alone, which easily could have paid for his psychiatric care outside of prison. Other costs, such as the cost society pays for their crimes, are harder to figure. In essence, Nevada taxpayers spend untold millions on incarcerating and temporarily caring for the mentally ill, the public suffers their crimes, and the mentally ill suffer their conditions, their lives becoming one long sentence in a prison of the mind.

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