New Sparks residential treatment home aims to keep mentally ill out of jail

Listen to the story

New Sparks residential treatment home aims to keep mentally ill out of jail

Dove_final

A small fraction of inmates at the Washoe County Jail are so severely mentally ill they end up behind bars several times a year, unable to get sober, get a job, and get on with their lives.

KUNR's Michelle Bliss reports there's a new effort in Sparks to rehabilitate them. It's called the Dove House.

"Well, we had a naming contest and there was a naming committee and the committee thought since there were doves nesting, and since doves are a symbol of peace and harmony, that this program be named the Dove House."

Denise Abbey is pointing at a small nest above the front door where two grey doves have nestled in. As program manager for the Dove House, Abbey makes sure that residents are comfortable and have a steady routine. Most have been living in jail cells, psychiatric hospitals, or on the streets. They suffer from illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Often, those issues are compounded by drug and alcohol abuse.

"Many of them hear voices or they see things, they have delusions, they have paranoia and they're afraid of things."

With her clients enduring such anguish and fear, Abbey has designed the Dove House to feel like a home, instead of an icy institution.

"It's equipped with two full kitchens, very big and spacious and comfortable. They will be taught how to make their own meals on budgets. Say they get food stamp money every month, how much they can spend on different things to make it last for the month."

Abbey steps outside with Sharon Dollarhide of Northern Nevada Mental Health Services. They walk onto the back porch where clients can cook out or toss around a football.

A year ago, Dollarhide helped secure a grant for the Dove House after learning the results of a state study.

In 2011, 15% of the nearly 17,000 inmates at the Washoe County jail had a history of mental illness. And during that one-year period, there were 180 mentally ill inmates arrested 4 to 16 times each.

"That's the people that we're looking out to target--the ones that have been in jail one or more times, been in the hospital one or more times. So we want to reduce hospital stays, reduce jail stays, get people housed, reduce crime and recidivism."

Adam Hopkins, the captain of operations at the Washoe County jail, has worked with these inmates firsthand, including one man who was arrested more than 200 times in a year.

"We have become the quasi-mental health facility in northern Nevada. We house more mental health inmates in the Washoe County jail than the state hospital has patients. So that kind of puts it into perspective. We have become that by default, and nobody wants it, and nobody thinks it's the right thing to do, but it is what it is."

Along with law enforcement, taxpayers are hit with this burden as well.

"It can hit them when they are walking to and from their homes, in the way of crimes committed by these people, or it can hit them in the pocketbook when they have to foot the bill as taxpayers for them to be incarcerated."

Housing each of these inmates costs at least $111 a day.

The sheriff's office has recently started a forensic mental health team to streamline services to them once they leave prison, including housing, therapy, medication management, substance abuse treatment, and basic life skills training. Sharon Dollarhide says that's everything the Dove House is offering.

"Basically what we're trying to do is reclaim the mentally ill from the criminal justice system. They belong to us-we abandoned them back in the 70s, 80s, 90s."

The Dove House can take in up to 14 people and each will probably stay a few months. During that time, Dollarhide says clients will learn how to live independently, so they can finally shut the revolving door of the Washoe County Jail.