Grand Traverse County Leaders React to Jail Report

"When they’re in jail they’re our responsibility. And it’s getting more and more prevalent."

Grand Traverse County leaders are reacting to a new report on medical and mental health services at the County Jail.

It’s a follow-up to a story we brought you last week – County Commissioners had called for a third party review of the jail back in March. Now that report has been released – 9&10 talked to the Jail Administrator, the Sheriff, and the County Administrator to find out what happens next.

After reviewing the audit, Grand Traverse County Jail Administrator Capt. Chris Barsheff says, “I didn’t feel like there were any surprises that jumped out.”

The 16 page report from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care shows the Grand Traverse County Jail provides adequate care for medical services.

Sheriff Tom Bensley Bensley says, “I think it was a fair report, I think they did a good job. I think in some aspects of the report we were okay, that’s the medical care of the inmates. The mental health side, we’re going to have to look at that.”

The report also identifies room for improvement: including better record keeping, and providing more mental health services and resources to a larger percentage of inmates. The Sheriff says they’ll “look at the recommendations and see where that leads us, and what we can do to make improvements.”

Barsheff agrees. “There could be a few shortfalls as it relates to mental illness and mental health resources. I’ve seen that the majority of people who come through there seem to have substance abuse disorders, or mental illness.”  Barsheff also says one challenge is that this report comes from a third party, with a different set of standards not universally applied. “You also have standards that each individual facility has to meet with the (state) Dept. of Corrections, and then outside of those, you can follow the different nonprofit organizations and what they suggest. The challenges are the facility, the amount of money it costs for those services. It’s going to vary county to county and facility to facility.”

Sheriff Bensley says, “I think some of the recommendations can be fixed very easily. Others are going to take a while to sort through and figure out. But at least we have a base. And we can start from there and move forward.”Former Grand Traverse County Jail Administrator Charged For Embezzlement, Sex Crimes, Larceny

There are many complexities when it comes to medical and mental health of inmates at the jail. Some of the big ones include past treatment with past physicians, and the amount of time the inmates will be expecting current treatment when they’re in the jail – for however long that may be.

Grand Traverse County Administrator Nate Alger says, “That is all part of the complexity of the jail. You could be in and out within a few hours. You could be in and out after 11 months and 29 days. It is a very difficult environment to manage.”

Two contracts for treatment of inmates cost the county about $850,000 a year. Alger says they spend $682,000 a year for mental health services per year, and additional “peer support and licensed mental health care” at a cost of $163,000 year.

The Sheriff says he thinks “the program currently in place may be modified or changed so that it can go in a different direction and serve more inmates.”  Alger says any changes with financial implications have to be approved by the board of commissioners. “We really have to work together, and we have been. We’ve been working together to try to figure out what’s best for the county, the jail and the inmates in terms of medical and mental health. But there’s a cost there.”

For the future, plans were already in the works for ongoing discussions. And those will continue, according to the Sheriff. “We’ll look at the recommendations and see where that leads us, and what we can do to make improvements.  The county is also engaged in another overall assessment of Community Mental Health, and a piece of that is the jail.”

Barsheff will be a part of that discussion as well. “Let’s take these recommendations, let’s all get together and head in a direction to make it better than it was yesterday. That’s my attitude with this audit.  My priorities are to analyze everything that goes on in the jail and improve it efficiently, in the quality of services that are delivered. And what are the costs to do that?”

Changes could be made to future contracts with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health and Wellspring, which provide services. Barsheff says, “There isn’t an emergency, like ‘the sky is falling’, that we have to do this today. We’re going to have those discussions and look at the audit.”

And Barsheff adds some of those conversations have already happened, and some are already scheduled. “We’re going to have a conversation with their leadership next month, reflect back on the report, and how can we improve things based on the recommendations.”

Alger has already met with Sheriff Bensley and says he plans to meet with Capt. Barsheff as well. “There were some positive that came from the report as well. We hope to capitalize on that, look at what the report reflected negatively and try to fix what we can fix in the short run and try to plan for the long run.”

You can view the full report here: Grand Traverse County Jail Report