by Comprehensive Staff
Win-win-win as jail makes transition to mental health
Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial Board
It’s unusual — almost ironic — that two serious governmental problems provide a solution to each other, and at the same time, offer an opportunity for a third party to expand its longtime mission. But that appears to be the case now that Yakima County has found a tenant for its empty jail, the state of Washington has found a way to comply with a federal court ruling, and Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health soon will enhance its longtime status as an important local provider of behavioral health services.
Recall that the Yakima County jail on Pacific Avenue has had hundreds of beds in search of occupants for the past five years, after the county lost contracts to house inmates from other municipalities. The prisoners and the income they generated went away, but the jail’s construction debt did not, and the county will be spending money for that purpose until 2022.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Social and Health Services has been dealing with an April court decision ruling over mental health evaluations for criminal defendants. By law, if defendants have a questionable ability to understand legal proceedings or are unable to assist in their own defense, the courts must call for a competency evaluation. If necessary, the defendant must receive mental health treatment in order to restore competency.
In April, a federal court ruled the state was taking too long to get defendants evaluated and into treatment; the state was ordered to deal quickly with a backlog of defendants.
That provided an opening for Comprehensive Mental Health, which since the 1970s has offered behavioral health and substance-abuse treatment in the Yakima Valley. Comprehensive for years has worked with the county and defendants; it has a mental health program in Yakima County Superior Court along with mental health staff at the county’s downtown jail.
Comprehensive obtained a $2.2 million annual contract with DSHS to oversee pretrial inmates as patients. After some remodeling, the jail will start receiving its first tenants in March. This program will take up only one of the jail’s four pods; each pod can house up to 72 inmates.
Comprehensive’s contract with the DSHS will run year-by-year; but with the Yakima-based nonprofit’s long track record of success in the community, plus the state’s backlog of inmates, chances appear good that the contract will exceed that time span. The arrangement speaks to Comprehensive’s successful programs in the community, and to the ability of the county and state governments to find a solution to their respective problems in ways that benefit all parties.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.