HELP WANTED: Why the SLCo Jail needs more help in its mental health team

Local News

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) — The Salt Lake County jail is experiencing a problem.

Its mental health unit is severely understaffed, and inmates are struggling to get the help they need.

“We are really fortunate to have an in-house mental health team,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief of jail operations Shanda Gonzalez.

Jeanne Gibbs, the clinical services director at the jail, said they only have 11 positions filled out of 25.

Gibbs said the mental health team needs help because a therapist can help an inmate which, in turn, once they’re released, can help the community.

“If you treat people humanely and give them the service they need here so that when they are released, they are stable and they are connected to resources and treatment,” Gibbs said. “That is a better outcome for our entire community, not just that individual,” Gibbs added.

Around 1,700 individuals are currently locked up in the Salt Lake County Jail.

Gonzales said mental health has always been an issue with inmates in the jail, but the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for mental health services

“I think definitely the anxieties that plague society just spills over in here,” said Gonzalez. “I think it is greater for those who are in our custody because they don’t have that luxury of being able to see what’s going on with their family’s day to day, so definitely Covid has played an impact on the number of mental health calls that our team sees on a daily basis.”

Mental health is a real issue and Gibbs said it deserves attention and Gonzalez said the jail’s responsibility is not just a safeguard for the community, but helping those locked up to get the help they need.

“The mental health services are like I had said, a vital component in reducing recidivism,” said Gonzelez. “We are sending these people back out into the community and any bit of stability we can give them really does have an impact on our community as a whole.”

Gibbs, who has worked on the mental health team for about a decade, said she loves how rewarding it is because of the impact she makes on people’s lives. 

Gonzalez added the mental health calls are increasing so having a full staff would help those in the jail get the help they need.

The mental health team is looking to fill 14 positions.

The position requires a master’s degree in social work, psychology, or a mental health-related field.

The pay ranges from $53,000 to $80,000 dollars. 

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