TRAVERSE CITY — A $163,500 contract will continue mental health services for inmates in Grand Traverse County’s jail.
The county Board of Commissioners Wednesday approved the deal — near identical to last year’s agreement — for another year of Northern Lakes Community Mental Health’s jail support services.
The contract, which runs Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 2020, provides a full-time licensed mental health professional and a peer support specialist.
“This contract has made huge, huge strides toward improving the mental health services in our jail,” Commissioner Sonny Wheelock said.
The contract provides pay for those two positions, along with benefits and health insurance. It continues in annual intervals.
The topic spurred nearly an hour of discussion during the morning meeting, with Jail Administrator Capt. Chris Barsheff and CMH’s Joanie Blamer answering commissioner questions and offering a look at what CMH’s behind-bars efforts entail.
Much of that talk focused on the jail’s Crisis Intervention Team training, which provides corrections officers new knowledge and a better toolset for dealing with inmates with mental health conditions.
The jail adopted the training program last year through a CMH grant and partnership to find solutions for jail inmates with mental health conditions.
“We started looking in the nation — what are some best practices we could look at and not reinvent the wheel,” Blamer said.
They found the “Memphis Model” of CIT, created in the 1980s after an officer-involved shooting took the life of a mentally ill man. It focuses on teaching officers about different mental illnesses and disorders and how to better approach and deescalate mental health crises. Right now, three jail staffers are fully trained and the rest of the crew has received some incremental training.
“This feels like a really important shift that we’re just moving into, safety of the COs, reduction of liability to the county … and a safer environment for the folks incarcerated as well,” said Commissioner Betsy Coffia.
It has worked well so far, Barsheff added.
“When somebody is in mental health crisis, they go and try to talk to that person and talk them down,” he said. “That has been a phenomenal addition to the jail and I think without CMH’s help … who knows where we’d be today.”
CMH also provides group therapy sessions by cellblock and a discharge planning program that helps inmates reintegrate into society, including help finding housing and jobs.
Their in-jail services also include employment skills training, anger management, life skills guidance and help with substance abuse. Inmates enrolled in the voluntary programs must participate and follow set rules, like avoiding angry outbursts.
“We hold them accountable — we’re giving you skills and you have to use those,” Blamer said.
It’s still early to tell, but Barsheff and Blamer said first-year numbers prove promising in terms of recidivism rates.
Northern Lakes was created in 2003 via an enabling agreement between Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Crawford, Missaukee, Roscommon and Wexford counties.
CMH’s expanded Grand Traverse County jail contract debuted in late 2018 — before that, the organization mainly focused on risk-assessment of the county’s inmates and treated pre-existing CMH patients that were incarcerated.
The additional services came after a slew of suicide attempts — more than 51 between 2011 and 2018 — and two confirmed jail deaths in 2017 and 2018. Both of those deaths ended in taxpayer-funded settlements.
It’s a move in the right direction, commissioners said.
“I’m sure there’s things we’re going to tweak, we’re going to work on changing, but we’ve made a huge move in the last nine months,” Wheelock said.