Rio Arriba County officials said they will work to reduce incarceration rates of people with mental illnesses.
As part of a national initiative called Stepping Up, County Commissioners passed a resolution Jan. 28 committing to several actions that aim to reduce those rates.
Four hundred counties around the country and 14 counties in New Mexico have passed similar resolutions, according to Rio Arriba County Health and Human Services Clinical Supervisor Michelle Peixinho.
The resolution states approximately 2 million people with serious mental illnesses are booked into jail each year nationally, and that without proper treatment and health care, those individuals continue to cycle through prisons and jails.
Almost three-fourths of people with serious mental illnesses who are incarcerated also have co-occurring substance use disorders, the resolution states. They are more at risk for recidivism and tend to be incarcerated for longer periods of time than people without serious mental illness, the resolution states.
County Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt said there is no comparable data at the county level currently, and Peixinho said officials will now be working to compile it.
The actions County officials will take following the resolution are already funded by various grants and include convening leaders from several agencies; collecting and reviewing data about how prevalent mental illness is in jails and assessing people’s needs; examining treatment and service capacity in the County for people with mental illness; identifying state and local policy and funding barriers that prevent people from receiving treatment in the community; developing a plan with measurable outcomes; furthering and implementing the plan with research-based approaches; and creating a process to keep track of progress.
Along with these actions, using federal grants, County officials have been expanding programs that reroute people from the criminal justice system to the healthcare system.
Reichelt said there are several “intercept” points within the criminal justice system at which someone can be rerouted, some of which exist now and some of which are being developed: before being booked; before being tried; in court or after a sentence is completed.
While the existing Reroute/LEAD program currently reroutes people before they are booked, County officials are working with First Judicial Court Judge Jason Lidyard to develop a reroute option in court.
Peixinho said officials plan to map out these intercept points to demonstrate what the whole system looks like. Reichelt also mentioned crisis intervention trainings that police officers will receive this spring, involving de-escalation, motivational interviewing techniques and mental health first aid.
“So they have a broader toolbox,” Reichelt said.
She said a key part of the training will involve talking about how to handle stress and trouble that might arise on the job as an officer.
Peixinho said it is important to recognize that everyone needs mental health services, instead of stigmatizing certain people for their illnesses.
“We’re all in just different levels of different kinds of support and help that we need,” she said.