Denver Sheriff’s Department wants to hire team to help inmates with serious mental illness
About half of the jail population has some kind of mental health symptom, according to the department.
DENVER — If Denver City Council approves the 2022 budget, $1 million would help the Denver Sheriff’s Department pay for 12 mental health professionals to work alongside deputies in Denver jails.
About half of the jail population has some kind of mental health symptom. It is likely much higher than that when substance use issues are factored in, according to Chief of Mental Health Services Nikki Johnson.
Johnson was hired earlier this year. One of the goals Sheriff Elias Diggins gave her was to create a crisis response team made up of a supervisor and 11 clinicians to prevent and de-escalate crises involving people with serious mental illness.
“We hope they help to prevent crises from happening,” Johnson said. “We anticipate these clinicians will work with individuals within our custody to develop a therapeutic rapport that when there is something that happens, they can step in, maybe have that conversation with them, to de-escalate the situation.”
Denver Sheriff’s Department is currently recruiting and hiring for the crisis response team to include seven clinicians and one supervisor to start in 2021. They would all work at the Downtown Detention Center.
If the 2022 budget is approved, the department will expand the team by hiring four more clinicians for the county jail.
So far, the department has hired one supervisor and one clinician.
“Unfortunately, there really isn’t the community support for mental illness and for mental health needs that we need in order to give individuals the help they need,” she said. “There’s a time in there when a mental health professional can have a conversation with the person and hopefully, again, de-escalate the crisis but stop the self-injurious behavior.”
The goal is to give those people the services they need in jail so they don’t re-offend and come back. The team plans to work 24/7.
“They may have some kind of paranoia or some kind of delusional thoughts that lead them to hurting someone or assaulting a law enforcement individual, and that often is what leads them into our system,” said Johnson.
The Crisis Response Team will work with various vendors outside of the jail that focus on re-entry needs, such as housing. They want to pair people with professionals in the community so they can continue to receive services when they’re released.