Relocation part of state plan to treat Nevada inmates with mental health issues

CARSON CITY — Most of Nevada’s most seriously mentally ill inmates have been relocated to a correctional facility in the capital as the Department of Corrections moves to implement a policy to treat prisoners with psychiatric issues.

About 300 inmates who have been classified as seriously mentally ill are being treated at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, where they can receive comprehensive services, Corrections Department Director James Dzurenda said Tuesday.

A few mentally ill inmates needing more security, including a handful of death-row inmates, are being treated at High Desert State Prison in Southern Nevada, he said.

Dzurenda reported on the efforts to treat mentally ill offenders at a meeting of the state Board of Prison Commissioners.

“We don’t have a formalized mental health delivery system.” he said. “We’ve never have had one.”

 

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a member of the board, said the department has to make sure treatment continues for inmates who are paroled.

Dzurenda said inmates will be given 30 days of medication upon release and the department will work to get Medicaid eligibility set up for parolees before their release to ensure a continuum of care.

Many of the mentally ill inmates will be paroled and it is incumbent upon the agency to make sure they transition successfully into society, he said.

Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a member of the board, congratulated the agency for finding solutions to treat the inmate population.

SEGREGATED INMATES

State lawmakers heard last month that seriously mentally ill inmates housed in Nevada prisons routinely were placed in segregation units, sometimes for as long as five years at a time.

Stunned lawmakers called the revelations troubling and openly questioned whether the past practice violated inmates’ civil rights. The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services heard about the state’s past treatment of mentally ill inmates from David Tristan, deputy director of programs for the Nevada Department of Corrections.

At the Prisons Board meeting, Dzurenda said seriously mentally ill inmates are no longer being housed in segregated units at Ely State Prison, the state’s maximum security prison. A total of 88 inmates have been transferred from Ely to other institutions.

While the seriously mentally ill number is small compared to the overall prison population, there are 2,400 Nevada inmates under psychiatric care. The average overall Nevada inmate population is 13,345 this year.

The Carson City institution is being set up to include a “step down” unit where mentally ill inmates can transition into the general population, Dzurenda said.

But some inmates, including those with associated physical ailments such as dementia, will never be able to move into the general population, he said.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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