Team helps inmates with problems |

Team helps inmates with problems

by Aurora Sain
Joseph McEllistrem
Jim Grant | The Record-Courier

Mental health problems and inmates are a huge concern across the state, and the help that people need isn’t always available.

Inmates with mental illness are often times thrown into solitary confinement, or their medication becomes a commodity and they end up selling it instead of taking it, said Vanessa Spinazola, legislative and advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

In an effort to get people the help they need, the Forensic Assessment Services Triage Team was formed to bridge the gap between the time someone spends in jail and when they are released.

Team members regularly meet with Douglas County jail inmates.

The team was originally started with the help of Richard Whitley and Joseph McEllistrem.

Whitley now serves as the director for the Department of Health and Human Services, and was formally the administer of the state Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services, while McEllistrem continues to work with the team.

“The biggest failure of treatment is people not getting the treatment they need,” said McEllistrem.

The program brings together mental health providers, law enforcement and family members, all with a common goal to get the individual help instead of leaving them in jail.

The program was started in 2012 after data released for the U.S. Department of Justice said that around 60 percent of all prison and jail inmates have mental health problems.

The team works with people while they are incarcerated so they know the resources that are available to them once they get out.

The services started at the Carson City Jail, where the success of the program led them to expand to Lyon County.

By building the relationships with inmates in jails, the follow through afterwards is much higher, said McEllistrem.

At any given time, McEllistrem said they help between 50-65 individuals, meaning that they are somewhere along in the process, either in jail or the time since they have been released.

The end result that the FASTT program hopes to achieve is these people get the help they need and don’t end up back in the jail system.

“It’s gone really well,” said McEllistrem. “We work with a lot of agencies to bring people the help they need.”