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Sheriff says change was needed

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. 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.”It appears that the jail has responded to the lawsuit,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado. “… It appears that they have taken a step in the right direction with regards to mental health care.”Vallario said the lawsuit wasn’t for the reason for the change.”For a lot of reasons it made sense. We didn’t say we ought to do this because of the ACLU lawsuit,” he said.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.Vallario said the issues a court is being asked to resolve in the lawsuit are arising around the country as more mentally ill people end up in jail.”How much are we responsible for these people and their mental health needs?” he asked.Silverstein said all the issues being raised in the lawsuit, from use of devices such as restraint chairs and pepper spray to provision of mental health care, are ones that all jails face, but most have policies in place to properly address them.”Most jails and prisons deal with health care by making sure prisoners get their serious health care needs taken care of,” he said.Silverstein said no further court dates have been set in the lawsuit because the two sides are in the process of discovery, which involves gathering information from each other regarding the allegations. He said that process has been going smoothly, with no disputes between sides about the scope of the information that should be provided.Vallario said the county has sent the ACLU 24,000 pages of documents related to the case, which he said is now “kind of in that big hurry-up-and-wait mode.”Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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