Mental health grant introduced for wellness at Kittitas County Jail

Kittitas+Public+Safety+Building+located+in+Ellensburg%2C+Washington.

Megan Rogers

Kittitas Public Safety Building located in Ellensburg, Washington.

Megan Rogers, Staff Reporter

Kittitas County Jail received a $483,552 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. These grants are designed to create mental health support programs for inmates in the justice system.

“Somewhere around half, or more than half of people who come through the criminal justice system, have either a mental or behavioral health issue or a substance use disorder or both,” Christopher Whitsett, inspector and public information officer at the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office, said.

Whitsett said most people who come through jails are repeat offenders. To help lessen this, they want to explore different ways to reduce criminal activity.

“If we can break that cycle, and get them to stop committing crimes by helping to provide tools, then that’s what gets us to our mission,” Whitsett said. “Our mission is the peace of the whole community and the safety of the whole community.”

One tool the jail is implementing is new types of therapy and group therapy. With these methods, they want to get people out of cycles of violent and criminal behavior, which will hopefully allow the inmates to have a more productive role in society. Kittitas County Jail is planning to bring on a new case manager and they hope to bring on an additional therapist. 

According to a press release from co.kittitas.wa.us, Kittitas County Jail “[h]as taken a leadership role in viewing incarceration not merely as punishment but an opportunity to intervene in cycles of drug abuse, mental and emotional health issues, and criminal recidivism.”

United States Attorney Vanessa Waldref said these grants are designed to provide support for improving public health. 

“Having that mental health support can really be critical for a successful return to work, return to family and return to a healthy and safe environment,” Waldref said.

Waldref said having mental health support programs in rural areas, like Kittitas County, is critical. 

“I’m thrilled to see these funds going to a county like Kittitas County, that serves so many individuals that don’t have the same resources that are available to them and services that are available as individuals in more urban areas,” Waldref said. 

Whitsett said he wants the community to know that this grant isn’t a way to coddle the inmates.

“This is an effort to try to smooth things out for the future so that those people will stop these behaviors and produce higher levels of safety for our whole community,” Whitsett said.