How Colorado Prisons, Jails Deal With Heavy Mental Illness Caseload


Colorado prisons treat more than four times as many people with mental illness each day as all of the psychiatric hospitals in the state, reports the Denver Post. The Department of Corrections, by default, is the largest mental health treatment center in Colorado. A third of inmates, 5,760 prisoners, have mental problems. In Denver, the jail with its sheer volume of “patients” at up to 500 per day is the biggest provider of mental health services in the metro area. One-fifth of Denver County Jail inmates have mental illnesses.

Jails and prisons are no longer warehouses holding the accused until their time is up. They are treatment centers; the Denver County Jail has three psychologists and six diversion and mental health program officers, and holds classes twice daily to teach inmates with mental illness how to function without breaking the law. It's expensive: Denver County spent $245,200 on anti-psychotics and other mental health drugs for jail inmates last year alone. The Department of Corrections spent $1.9 million on mental health prescriptions. Colorado also pays $2,083 per prisoner, per year to treat mental health problems, and for some of them, it's the first treatment they ever get. The Post takes a close look at how cases are handled.

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