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Washoe jail population down, potential suicides steady

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 6:44 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - The daily average population at the Washoe County jail has dropped in the past three months from about 11-hundred inmates to around 800. That’s a decrease of about 35 percent.and it means more room in most areas like unit number one, but elsewhere it’s a different story.

Unit three--the mental health unit--has often been at capacity and elsewhere the number of inmates under special monitoring has remained fairly steady. Often the reason is the potential for suicide.

While everyone booked into the jail these days is screened and quarantined for the coronavirus, they also undergo a three stage screening for mental problems and suicide risk. The results: an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the inmate population is dealing with some mental health issue. In many cases that may simply be the stress of incarceration or whatever incident brought them here. but--according to the psychiatrist who sees them-- the issues 40 to 60 percent of them are dealing with are serious enough to warrant psychotrophic medication.

Some are thinking of suicide and some attempt it. The sheriff’s office says a total of 212 suicides were averted through screening and monitoring in the last three months, still there were five attempts.

“That’s a total of 20 percent of our average daily population that either thought about suicide or attempted suicide,” says Sheriff Darin Balaam.

There hasn’t been a successful suicide attempt at the jail in more than a year and one could make the argument those numbers are a success story, but the sheriff says behind them is a worrisome fact.

“We’re the second largest mental health hospital in the state. Clark County Detention Center is the first. so we have a hospital here.”

And--he says--that says something about our investment in mental health and all this belongs in the current conversation about police reform and should be on state lawmakers minds as they meet in special session next week.

More on that part of the story tomorrow night.

Copyright 2020 KOLO. All rights reserved.

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