The Story County jail will begin to transition to a new provider for certain inmate services in a program designed to lower the amount of repeat offenses by people suffering from mental illness and addiction.
The decision was made Tuesday by the Story County Board of Supervisors to alter the jail diversion program to avoid redundancies in services provided. The board voted to end the in-house employment of a current staff member who provides a variety of services in the program to contract with Optimae LifeServices Inc.
Optimae is a company that already provides other services for the jail and also offers the type of mental health services that were being fulfilled by the other employee.
Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald said he has seen very positive results from the jail diversion program and he hopes the shift will provide the same level of care that it has in the past.
"I think the board’s very committed to making sure that we do have a dynamic jail diversion program," Fitzgerald said.
He said the move follows a decision made by the Legislature in 2012 to regionalize mental health services in the state. At that time, the Legislature passed a law to move away from a county-based approach in an effort to pool resources and create statewide standards while still allowing counties to have local control in who manages mental health services. With that control, the county has decided to contract with Optimae.
Optimae was one of two private providers bidding to replace Story County’s Community Life Program as the county moved to a regional mental health system.
Fitzgerald said he is less worried about who is providing the service than he is about quality of the services being provided.
"I’m the sheriff and I fight for the jail and I fight for the sheriff’s office and the things that we do. So, I want to make sure we have the best program," Fitzgerald said.
According to Fitzgerald, the only part of the transition that worries him is the possibility that the inmates may lose out on services that help them re-enter society after being arrested.
"In our current jail diversion program, Optimae is the provider that follows the individual out into the community for that 12 to 18 months to reconnect them to reduce recidivism. The thing that we’ll be losing is that point in the jail that sets up the process for them once they leave the jail," Fitzgerald said.
Supervisor Rick Sanders said he didn’t believe that would be the case.
"I’m understanding that we’re adding, or the region is adding, a service coordinator position to do just that," Sanders said.
Fitzgerald said he hopes that is the case and if that person is hired he believes they should be allowed to work out of the jail, in order to give them a better chance of working directly with inmates to help them adjust upon release.
Sanders said he is not as concerned with where the person’s office is located as he is about the person doing their job in the jail and outside of the jail.
Following the discussion, the supervisors approved the takeover of services by Optimae, which should include a service coordinator position, Sanders said in his motion.
That position is supposed to be filled and operational by July 1.