County commissioner participates in national joint task force

Nancy Sharpe part of effort to reduce jail inmate recidivism

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Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe joined fellow county leaders from across the country for an advocacy day on Capitol Hill.

The meeting of the National Association of Counties and National Sheriffs' Association joint task force, from Oct. 8-10, was part of an effort to reduce jail inmate recidivism via continuity of health care services.

Sharpe is the co-chair of the task force, which includes NACo and NSA members representing law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, behavioral health and veterans' services, according to a news release.

The group was set up earlier this year to explore the impacts of the national mental and behavioral health crisis and the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy, which strips federal health and veterans' benefits from individuals upon admission to jail — not upon conviction — which forces counties to incur the costs of inmate health care and leads to increased recidivism, the release said.

“Stripping federal health benefits from those jailed but not convicted and who are presumed innocent is a violation of their constitutional rights and places an enormous financial burden on counties and local taxpayers,” NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase said in the release. “By providing access to health care benefits to those most in need, counties can help break the cycle of recidivism exacerbated by untreated physical and mental illnesses and substance use disorders.”

Members of the task force are exploring the impacts of existing federal policies on recidivism and health outcomes of local jail inmates. The primary focus is on those individuals suffering from mental health, substance abuse and/or other chronic health illnesses.

According to the release, sheriffs and their jails are seeing an increased number of inmates with substance abuse, mental illness and co-occurring disorders. Due to a lack of community resources, jails have become de-facto mental health hospitals and treatment facilities and have assumed the liability as well, the release said.

Task force members shared stories and promising practices on pre-trial jail populations, jail health care, services provided and recommendations for how local governments can work with law enforcement to ensure better health outcomes in the local justice system, reduce recidivism and build community capacity to support a continuum of care, the release said.

Sharpe used her time in Washington to update staff members of Colorado's Rep. Ken Buck and Sen. Cory Gardner about the task force's work and the situation at home.

“In Arapahoe County, we are currently dealing with the many ramifications of having an outdated and overcrowded detention center,” Sharpe said in the release. “The MIEP interrupts the continuity of care of pre-trial inmates, adds substantial additional cost to the county and increases the possibility of recidivism among those affected by the policy.”

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