Garfield County Jail changes address mental health care
GARFIELD COUNTY – The Garfield County Jail has changed mental health care providers, resulting in improvements that address some of the concerns raised in a lawsuit last year.However, county Sheriff Lou Vallario and the American Civil Liberties Union differ over whether the ACLU’s suit had anything to do with the upgrade.The county contracted with Correctional Healthcare Management (CHM) of Englewood, Colo., to begin providing mental health care at the jail. Previously, Colorado West, in Glenwood Springs, provided the service.Vallario said CHM already provides medical health care at the jail, and last fall offered to provide mental health care as well. He said the county decided it was more seamless to have one company providing both types of services.”It’s nothing at all against Colorado West because they provided a great service for us,” he said.However, he said CHM probably will be able to do more mental health assessments than Colorado West could do. CHM is making use of telemedicine so staff members won’t have to visit an inmate in person to decide whether specialized help from a psychiatrist or psychologist is needed.Last year, the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit accusing Vallario and jail commander Scott Dawson of allowing abuse of prisoners through jailers’ inappropriate use of restraint chairs, pepper spray, pepper ball guns and electric shock belts.It later added new allegations to the suit, including the claim that mental health care is being denied to indigent county jail prisoners.The ACLU contends prisoners are asking for psychiatric help but being denied it when they don’t have the necessary $100 in their inmate accounts. The only exceptions are cases in which they are hallucinating or suicidal.Vallario doesn’t dispute that the mental health services offered for free at the jail are limited to things such as crisis intervention and screening. He said he continues to believe the jail should not be responsible for providing free mental health therapy for inmates who come into the jail with pre-existing problems, unless those problems affect their ability to live in the jail.
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