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The High Cost of Jailing the Mentally Ill November 27, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy, Seattle Politics.

Keith Ervin of The Seattle Times reports today that someone booked into the King County Jail will usually stay an average of 9-35 days, but if the offender is mentally ill , the stay is usually about 158 days. And the cost to the county is $15,000 , or much more for the severely ill, based on a daily cost of $98.00 and a booking charge of $180.00. The Metropolitan King County Council, understandably alarmed by these numbers, is mounting a campaign to establish more treatment programs, get inmates out of jail faster, and ideally, prevent them from going there in the first place. The first order of business is to establish a funding mechanism for the effort, and to this end the council is studying the feasability of a one-tenth of one percent increase in the sales tax.

If approved, this tax would raise about 50 million dollars per year, an amount that would be used to provide housing and treatment, as well as to expand the services of the Drug Court and the Mental Health Court.

Of course, these estimates do not include the deleterious effects of jail on the mental state of patient-inmates. County Councilman Bob Ferguson (D-Seattle) has rightly noted that this argument from efficiency is not the only dimension to the problem He calls the “warehousing” of the mentally ill in jails a “moral wrong”. The jail as become the second largest (after Western State Hospital) mental-health facility in the state. Larry Gossett ( D- Seattle) also supports the measure, but Kathy Lambert (R- Seattle) is cautious. She is afraid that the additional tax burden , coming right after a new bus tax, might jeopardize Sound Transit’s plans for a new tax package on the November 7th ballot and endanger funding of a regional highway tax.

Ferguson introduced a motion requesting Sheriff Sue Rahar, County Executive Ron Sims, Prosecutor Norm Maleng, judges, and public defenders to submit a plan by next May to improve services and reduce jailings and visits to emergency rooms. No action will be taken until the report is received.

So the process is underway, but ever so slowly- and why does “voter fatigue” always come up when human services are involved?



1. r@d@r - November 27, 2006

i’m a progressive seattle resident and i vote against sales tax increases as they are regressive and negatively impact those with less dollars to spend. as a homeowner i usually vote in favor of property tax based levies for schools, etc. why can’t those that have shoulder more of their share of the burden? i’d pay for this gladly out of a property tax increase but maybe i’m in the minority.

2. Michael Riggs - November 27, 2006

I think you might be in the minority- and you might be in the right minority at that. A sales tax increase might not be the answer. Alternate funding mechanisms certainly ought to be considered. And thank you for the comment!

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