New Program Begins to Help Keep Non-Serious Offenders with Menta - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

New Program Begins to Help Keep Non-Serious Offenders with Mental Health Issues Out of Jail

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A new program started Wednesday to help keep people who suffer from mental illness out of our jails if they commit a minor offense. A new program started Wednesday to help keep people who suffer from mental illness out of our jails if they commit a minor offense.

RICHLAND, WA - A new program started Wednesday to help keep people who suffer from mental illness out of our jails if they commit a minor offense.

The jail diversion program is a partnership with local law enforcement and Lourdes Counseling Center.

Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner says this program is long overdue.

"We can continue to come into contact with the same individuals with mental illness and continue to throw them in jail time and time again or we could do the right thing and take a little extra time, bring them to this facility, get them the treatment and have the problem resolved," Chief Skinner said. 

Law Enforcement leaders agree one of the biggest benefits is for officers on the streets considering how often the issue comes up.

They say this gives them more resources when they respond to people committing a non-felony or non-serious crime.

If the officer believes the person is suffering from a mental health illness and not intoxicated, they can get an okay from Lourdes and transfer the individual there, instead of jail, where Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane says they do not belong.

"They don't thrive in that environment, they're very very difficult to supervise, it's very labor intensive, it costs a lot of money and it's just not the right thing to do," Sheriff Keane said. 

Officers say a lot of what they respond to is disorderly conduct, they say this program is a better solution to jail time.

"There is going to be a follow through program on this. People will come to Lourdes, they'll get evaluations, they'll get case management, they can get follow up and outpatient treatment, reports back to Lourdes and once they complete that treatment, the case will be closed and they can move on with their lives without a criminal record," Andy Miller, Benton County Prosecutor said.

If a patient refuses to complete the program, then the case goes back to the prosecutor for charges.    

Law enforcement and Lourdes worked on the Jail Diversion Program for months and they hope to grow the resources available for people dealing with mental health issues in our community. 

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