Yakima County Closer To Bringing In Mental Health Court

Some offenders in Yakima County could swap jail time for therapy.

In Yakima, like in many municipalities, courts are clogged with petty crimes and drug offenses.

But now there are plans to bring a mental health court to the county, which would get eligible offenders needed help while also clearing the docket and the county jail more quickly.

The program, first proposed by Yakima County Court Administrator Harold Delia, would give some nonviolent offenders the option to seek mental treatment.

And instead of spending time in the jail, inmates will be allowed to return home while getting treatment, checking in with the court once a week..

"The intent of the program is to identify 10 to 15 individuals that Yakima County sees on a rotating basis; individuals that do need mental health services," said Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey, "But, for whatever reason, aren't getting that proper service."

Bouchey says defendants who successfully complete the program could result in having their charges reduced, or even dropped -- cutting their jail time significantly.

He says the program is estimated to cost about $42,000 a year, a fraction of the cost it takes to house inmates at the Yakima County Jail.

Bouchey says it costs about $28,000 dollars to incarcerate a single individual for about a yea, so putting two people through the program could pay it off on its own.

One woman we spoke with today tells us she knows people who could have benefitted from this type of program.

"I think it would be an excellent opportunity for people in Yakima to save money for the county, but see people's lives really change, to make a difference in people's lives," said Michelle Blanchard.

Yakima County officials agree it is worth funding the pilot project, if it means it would drastically reduce the number of people who may end up back in the system.

"[and] ultimately, save the county money, help the individual and help the community," said Bouchey.

Yakima County Commissioners have about a month to decide whether or not they will authorize funding for a mental health court.