The New Mexico Department of Health Region Five stated in March 2012, that over 50 percent of inmates in the Doña Ana County Detention Center had serious mental issues that required medication at the time of booking.
“Currently, if an officer comes across a person that is exhibiting signs of protective custody need, there is not a facility in Doña Ana County that provides protective custody need so they have to go to jail,” says Christopher Barela, Director of The Doña Ana County Detention Center.
There are 11 full-time behavioral health professionals working at the county detention center. However, the services offered can develop a backlog due to the high volume of inmates in need of the behavioral health services.
In August, inmate Daniel Leyva was found by officers to be hanging by a hook after attempting suicide. He was then taken to an area hospital. It was there where he declared brain dead. Leyva was held on felony non-residential burglary. Barela said that this recent suicide attempt happened after the inmate was no longer on a suicide watch.
According to Barela, officers at the detention center receive up to 90 hours of behavioral health and crisis training to identify signs of inmates that may be in need of help.
KRWG News asked Barela why the inmate with this behavioral health history was placed in a cell with hooks.
“By standard all cells need to have a method of hanging a towel or sweatshirt or something. The hooks that we are talking about are by standard made to give after so much pressure, but people can jerry-rig those hooks to hurt themselves,” says Barela.
Barela said that his staff was currently looking into possibly replacing the current types of hooks being used at the jail.
Mental health advocates, law enforcement, and Doña Ana County officials are some of those who have been working for years to establish the county crisis triage center that was completed this summer.
“At this point we have a resolution that was passed by commissioners that states the main focus will be law enforcement. Depending on how successful we are with law enforcement drop-off then we will consider moving forward with walk-ins,” says Silvia Sierra, Director of Health and Human Services of Doña Ana County.
Doña Ana County is currently looking for a provider to operate the crisis triage center. The facility could become operational as early as next year.
According to Christopher Barela, once the triage center is open, it will provide jail and hospital diversion for individuals exhibiting the need for protective custody who do not commit serious crimes.
“They don’t need to go to jail anymore and go through that whole adjudication process, instead the officer can bring them over here (Crisis Triage Center), place them in protective custody, they can get the care that they need, get the appropriate referral, and hopefully get them home where they should be,” says Barela.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, in fiscal year 2011 over half of the $9 million dollar medical budget of the Doña Ana County Detention Center went towards behavioral health services.
The New Mexico department of health also stated that inmates with serious mental health issues are likely to stay in custody two-to-three times longer than others, and have a recidivism rate at approximately 80 percent.