Mental health care to continue for jail inmates

Pitkin County inmates returned to the jail in Aspen this week. "Inmates were housed elsewhere for over two years and I wanted to get our detainees back in Pitkin County," Pitkin County Sheriff Michael Buglione said.
Aspen Times file photo

The Pitkin County Jail will continue providing mental-health and substance-abuse services to inmates, thanks to a renewed contract the county commissioners approved on Wednesday.

The contract is for jail-based behavioral services for the inmates, with funding for case management, mental-health treatment, and other services.

Colorado Department of Human Services and Office of Behavioral Health will provide $206,350 in Fiscal Year 2024, beginning July 1, for the Jail-Based Behavioral Services Program. The program provides behavioral health services to inmates with mental-health and substance-use disorders, as well as treatment and continuity of care plans after their release from jail.

“These funds are critically important to how we serve our inmate population,” Undersheriff Alex Burchetta said at a meeting May 24. “They allow us to hopefully make a dent in recidivism, provide services to individuals as they’re being released from jail, but also provide services to them in jail.”

The county will subcontract with a clinician provider and a psychiatric provider to deliver behavioral services to incarcerated individuals.

The clinician will be responsible for therapy and creating a plan to transition inmates back into the community after their release. They will also work with jail staff to create behavior management plans for inmates.

The psychiatric provider will conduct assessments related to medication for behavioral health issues.

The program will also provide additional services such as clothing vouchers, child care, life-skills training, medications, basic hygiene items, and bus passes to assist with stability for individuals following their release from jail.

Funding for this year’s contract includes a $7,500 grant from the Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention Bill passed by the Colorado Legislature last year. The bill set aside $3 million to assist county jails in providing medication-assisted treatment and referrals to a treatment provider upon inmates’ release. These funds will enable Pitkin County to provide detainees with opiate antagonists, such as naloxone and naltrexone, and other resources upon release from custody.

“I think this is one of the more important grants that we can accept, one of the most important programs we can do for our community and the jails specifically, given that we know that our jail population is suffering from mental-health and substance-abuse disorders,” Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said.

Since March 2021, Pitkin County inmates have been held in neighboring counties’ jails rather than in the Aspen jail facility due to safety concerns — inmates were housed in Garfield County before being moved to Eagle County in January. Inmates will return to the Pitkin County jail in the beginning of July following the completion of renovations to increase capacity and improve safety for detainees and jail staff, according to interim Detentions Division Chief Dan Fellin.

During the time that Pitkin County inmates have been housed off-site, the Sheriff’s Office has continued to provide behavioral services, Fellin said in an email.