Mentally ill filling Yakima jail cells and costing you thousands

Mentally ill filling Yakima jail cells and costing you thousands
YAKIMA, Wash. -- KIMA learned an increase of mentally ill inmates is causing overcrowding at the Yakima County Jail.

That increase comes at the same time the staff is being cut. Action News discovered the cost to take care of these inmates falls on you the taxpayer.

About a quarter of the more than 600 inmates booked into the Yakima County Jail are mentally ill. The jail must provide special accommodations for each one.

"The people with the black dots are high risk,” said Chief Karen Kelley with the Yakima County Jail.

Having a large mentally ill population behind bars is nothing new, but, budget cuts make it harder to care for them. The Yakima County Jail has lost 85 employees over the last three years while the number of mentally ill inmates grows.

"The problem that we run into is, as our population ages and our inmate ages then, we have every year more and more inmates that are using this space," said Kelley.

Space that is limited.

"I should be able to house 16 people in here,” said Kelley. “I have nine and the reason I have nine is the mental issues I have going on here."

The cost to house them in jail isn't cheap about a thousand dollars is spent every month just in overtime caring for the mentally ill.

"I've had to stay to write reports or cover the floor,” said Officer Swan with the county jail.

Add that to the cost of medicine , which is in the hundreds of thousands every year.

"At the end of the year, this becomes a huge resource issue for us and the taxpayer," said Kelley.

Action News asked what the solution is.

"I don't have any great ideas myself,” said Kelley. “My thought process is we really need to find a way to get the money flowing again at the federal level down to the state level."

Until then, the jail is working with the resources it has. However, it's not clear how much longer they'll last.