Sauk County officials take closer look at mental health in jails

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Kaitlyn Goodell grew up in Reedsburg, and along with her own struggles she’s watched friends and family members spend time behind bars. Most of the crime, she says, is somehow linked to drugs.

Kaitlyn was no exception.

“It was a Band-Aid. Any use of any kind that I performed — whether it be heroin, whether it was alcohol addiction, it didn’t matter — it was something that would take the numbness and it would make a world of a difference that I thought,” Goodell said. “I thought I was helping myself.”

It would be years after she started using that Goodell found out trauma she had experienced as a kid was the underlying issue in the addiction. She was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar disorder.

Goodell said that duel diagnosis — someone recognizing her addiction and her struggles with trauma — helped propel her into recovery. Before that happened, Goodell was in detox at least three times, overdosed twice and tried to commit suicide once.

“This is all you’ve known all your life, and now you have to completely change that and adapt,” Goodell said.

Goodell was put in a holding room, but knowing what it’s like dealing with drug abuse on top of other mental health issues, she can’t imagine how difficult it would be.

“Going into jail and drying up is a great thing, but I see a lot of people, they go to jail, they dry up, they get out of jail, and they go right back to it,” Goodell said.

Tuesday night, Sauk County supervisors approved a resolution regarding mental health in jails making Sauk County the fifth county in Wisconsin to join the “Stepping Up” effort, a national call to action that provides a network of resources and possible grants for the cause.

Janelle Krueger is the criminal justice coordinator for Sauk County and notices disorders linked to trauma or other mental health issues are becoming more prevalent around the jail.

“We need to be dealing with them, getting them services that they need, because ultimately, they’re staying in our communities, they’re going to be released at some point in time. So if we can get them access to care, help turn some of those things around so they don’t end up back here,” Krueger said.

While Krueger estimates more than 400 hours were spent on mental health work from January to November of last year, she said more could be done. She said often issues are masked by drug use.

“They may know that something’s not right, but they may have never had a formal diagnosis. And so when, I think, they’re brought into jail, some of those things become a little bit more clear,” Krueger said.

Krueger also recognizes that a jail setting can trigger pre-existing trauma that an inmate never knew existed.

“They may have never experienced a trigger before. They may not know where that memory is coming from,” Krueger said.

Lt. Lewis Lange runs the Sauk County Jail and notices the impact of the jail surroundings as well. He said it can be something as simple as a door shutting that sets someone off.

“It can perpetuate something that maybe they haven’t had to deal with much on the outside, but now they do because of the environment change,” Lange said.

Lange said there is more awareness about mental illness among his staff now, but there are fewer resources for severe situations. With mental health facilities now closed or not accepting emergency detentions, Lange said often those people who need help remain in jail and under his care.

Sauk County human services workers visit the jail to perform mental health assessments, but Lange would like to see that happen more often. He also said continuity of care is key, and is often unattainable. With insurance discrepancies and other factors, it can be difficult for someone in recovery to stay on the same medications and with the same support network.

Lange said that makes it harder for those addicts to stay away from self-medicating and stay out of jail.

“The taxpayers are paying one way or another,” Lange said.

In the end, Goodell hopes to see more counseling, groups and understanding in the criminal justice system for those struggling with addiction.

“It comes down to how bad do you want it and what help you are offered. Whatever you do with that after that, hopefully you make it,” Goodell said.

Krueger said Sauk County’s drug court will begin on Friday.