Yakima Police Working to Provide Mental Health Care for Offender - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Yakima Police Working to Provide Mental Health Care for Offenders

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YAKIMA, Wash.-- Yakima city leaders are working to turn criminals into patients. It's a called jail diversion, and it's aimed at providing mental health services to offenders instead of locking them up.

Yakima police are working with Comprehensive Mental Health to try and bring the program back to the city. The diversion program was utilized several years ago but was dropped because of budget cuts.

Now, Yakima's city manager and police chief are looking at ways to save money, and this program could do just that.  

Officers across Yakima arrest and lockup dozens of criminals every day.
But, sometimes those offenders have other issues that play a role in their actions. Issues like mental health problems.

"You take somebody who is mentally ill, they go to jail, they appear in court, it's over a long period of time and sometimes it's determined that they're not competent to stand trial," said Capt. Rod Light with YPD.

He says it costs taxpayers about $55 a day for an offender to be locked up. And, if someone needs medication for mental health problems, that price tag can be much higher.

So, to cut costs, YPD is looking at a program that would take non-violent misdemeanor offenders out of jail and put them into treatment.

"This allows the individual an opportunity to really engage in treatment, and then hook them in and see that their treatment continues," said Jack Maris with Comprehensive Mental Health.

He says for every dollar spent on mental health care, $4 are saved elsewhere, like in jail and court costs.

And while the savings make a difference now, Capt. Light says addressing the underlying issues will also make a big difference down the line.

"We can bring down, hopefully, the recidivism rate of these offenders because they just don't offend one time and stop, they're constant repeats," Light said.

Maris says programs like this are very successful in other cities, but if an offender does quit treatment, police are notified and Capt. Light says criminal charges could still be filed.

Officials are still in the preliminary stages of getting the program started.