LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - More mental health services could be available to jail inmates in La Crosse County.
The county board is looking to hire a full-time clinical therapist to replace the jail's current part-time therapist who will be retiring.
County officials say La Crosse is far more proactive than other counties when it comes to offering health services for inmates and they say they're hoping by hiring a full-time therapist, they can continue to offer more treatment options for those in jail.
According to La Crosse County Administrator Steve O'Malley, the volume of mental health issues in the jail increased over the last five years.
Which he says also means an increase of health services.
"What's important for people to understand is our jailers and our staff are not trained therapists, they're very good at what they do but again their profession is different from a mental health therapist," O'Malley said.
There are about 200 inmates on any given day at the La Crosse County jail and the current part-time therapist puts in about 22 hours a week.
By hiring a full-time therapist in the jail to help deal with mental health issues as well as drug abuse and addiction, O'Malley says inmates will have an easier time transitioning back into the community and staying out of jails.
"Whether it be from GED preparation for high school diploma, or testing to help people get into WTC when they get out of jail, training for skills," he said.
Clinical psychologist Thomas Ledoux says there is often a negative stigma tied in with having a mental illness and being an inmate with a mental illness, makes it even tougher.
"I think the paradigm shift should start to happen where we're looking at people who are in the forensic settings are often the most underserved for the mental health needs," Ledoux said.
Ledoux said prisons are slowly becoming the new mental health treatment centers rather than outpatient facilities, and he says this is why it's necessary to have a clinical therapist on site at all times.
"Understanding what their diagnoses are, ways that they can build coping skills to work through that, barriers to adherence to outpatient treatment, and maybe making connections to how their symptoms surface in the community and how that relates to their incarceration."
The board will act on approving the resolution to hire a full-time therapist next week and get the word out before the current therapist retires.
Aside from working at the jail, the full time therapist would also operate in an outpatient clinic run by county Human Services.
Clinical psychologists at Gundersen also say while having a full-time therapist is a good start, they believe the county should be looking to hire more than just one full-time therapist.
County officials also say many volunteers through jail ministry also help work with some of the inmates.
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