I-Team: Mental health problems plague jail system

LAS VEGAS - Some of Clark County's mentally ill keep ending up at the same place -- jail. There's even a list of people who repeatedly need mental health resources.

They're called super users and and currently, there are 66 super users in Clark County jails. More than 1,300 of Clark County's inmates are on medication for psychiatric needs.

A physician inside the jail tells the I-Team that many of these people suffer from drug induced psychosis, mainly from methamphetamine and heroin, others suffer from different psychiatric issues that jail staff must try to figure out.

And this is all part of complex issue which medication alone won't solve.

Captain Nita Schmidt says she's worked at the Clark County Detention Center for 15 years. Close to 30 percent of the inmates are on medication for psychiatric needs.

She says on of the biggest challenges, besides the volume people, is the people that come in with mental illness.

Schmidt now supervises special units like where, she says, 64 inmates with severe mental health issues are housed.

"We placed specially trained officers in this housing unit," Schmidt said.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "How often do you have incidents in here?"

Captain Nita Schmidt: "Infrequently."

Schmidt also brought the I-Team inside the isolation unit with 28 cells which, she says, are usually full.

"They are either homicidal, suicidal, self-harming, extremely violent, have attacked staff," Schmidt said.

Correction Officer Greg Mashore is part of the special emergency response team assigned to the unit.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "Does this feel more like a jail, this section? Or more like a hospital?  

Correction Officer Greg Mashore: "A little bit of both." 

Schmidt says because there aren't enough resources for the mentally ill in southern Nevada, there's a cycle. It involves an arrest, the inmate in jail, staff determining there is a mental illness, then medicating and treating the inmate, who gets released, doesn't have support or resources they need outside of the detention center and perhaps stops taking medication and ends up breaking the law and get taken to jail again.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "Does the jail have the resources it needs to deal with mental health?

Dr. Matthew Johnson,CCDC: "Well, just like the United States of America, we could always do with more." 

Doctor Johnson sees inmates both at the Clark County Detention Center and North Valley Complex where, as of early December, there was a combined estimate of 4,400 inmates.

Dr. Matthew Johnson: "Not literally, but figuratively, we're the largest psychiatric hospital in Nevada." 

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "How often are you concerned that they might be a danger to the community when they leave here?"

Dr. Matthew Johnson: I certainly would be less than truthful if I say that never enters my mind now and then."

And that's why -- in addition to the cost to taxpayers -- it's an issue that could affect all of us.

"It is a concern," Schmidt said. "It's a concern because you know what I live in this community, too." 

She has a wishlist. If she had the funding for it, she says, she'd have desks set up to coordinate housing, doctor's appointments, continued mental health treatment and more for inmates leaving jail.

Right now, she tells the I-Team, there is a social worker inside the jail dedicated to specifically working out Medicaid and welfare and staff is coordinating more with outside agencies.