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Inmate mental health treatment proves costly

Caring for the health of inmates is a financial burden Warren County taxpayers must provide, even if it becomes costly. 

The county Budget and Finance Committee met to consider two financial transfers within the Warren County Sheriff’s Department. One was $24,000 to cover the stay of two inmates at a mental health facility. The second was $2,000 to pay an interpreter.

According to information given during the meeting by County Executive Jimmy Haley, judges required the mental evaluations of two inmates. In both cases, it was determined the inmates required extended stays.

Minimum stays at mental health facilities are 72 hours. If deemed necessary, the individual can be kept until staff members determine the person is mentally stable enough to be released.

“It’s almost like the facility writing their own check,” said Commissioner Tommy Savage. 

Commissioner Christy Ross stated, “That’s my thoughts exactly, Commissioner Savage.”

Finance Department director Justin Cotten said mental health evaluations ordered by judges are not uncommon, but stays exceeding 72 hours are rare.

“This is not the first time we’ve sent someone for evaluation,” said Cotten. “In these instances, the persons were kept past 72 hours. They stayed until the facility deemed them ready to be discharged. It was two separate incidents that were not related in any way. I don’t even think they were ordered by the same court. The bills happened to come in pretty close together since they were from the same facility. In this instance, it was a state facility. That facility charges $450 a day.”

Commissioner Randy England expressed concern for future instances.

“What if we have someone who had to stay six months?” he asked. “We could be looking at a $250,000 bill.”

Ross questioned the possibility of insurance covering such expenses and Cotten offered to look into that possibility.

State law requires taxpayers to fund the mental and physical healthcare needs of inmates.

The charge for an interpreter is also the county’s burden. 

“Typically, the DA’s office provides an interpreter, but a different interpreter was required,” said Cotten. 

We thought the state would pay for this, but they did not. They said this was our burden.”

Cotten called the situation “an unusual circumstance” but could not offer committee members any specifics on why a different interpreter was needed.

Committee members gave approval for both transfers: $24,000 for the mental healthcare of two inmates and $2,000 for a translator.