Papillion, NE -- It's an empty jail cell now but chances are good the next person who sits in here will have a mental illness. Lee Polikov is the county's top prosecutor. "It's not something that's new," said Polikov. "Mental health has been discussed in the criminal justice system for as long as I've been around and I've always felt we've been short of resources. We haven't put enough resources to it."
Right now every inmate who's book in Sarpy County answers a series of questions about their mental state. But under a new proposal, questions would be extensive and the follow up would be thorough. "It's not a genius decision, it's pretty evident, it's pretty common sense," said Polikov. "We need to be involved earlier and we need follow up to make sure that the effort that's put into these cases have some success."
In a 30-day period in July, 398 people were booked in the jail. About 28-percent reported a history with mental illness. Danielle Richler heads up Pretrial Services. She's seen the numbers jump. "Since 2010 we've see a 100% increase on the number of inmates who've reported mental health issues with more multiple bookings in one year," said Richler. "So they're getting out and coming back in. They're picking up new charges based on their untreated mental illness."
The county says if it receives funding for the new program, offenders could be diverted to treatment facilities instead of jail. Their hope, get them on the right track and out of the court system. "Diversion is an incentive not to be prosecuted but to seek treatment, and that should be successful in a good number of cases."