A monthly update on the county jail again led to conversations on the need for more local mental health treatment at Tuesday’s Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The County Board has made mental health a priority, having previously approved a $33 million project for a new mental health treatment unit at the county jail. While questions remain about the feasibility of the project, as well as the proposed Community Mental Health Center that was denied by the County Board, commissioners were in agreement that there’s a clear need.

Myers reported that 42% of the jail population is diagnosed with a mental illness, and about half of those have a “serious” mental illness.

“I think that just stresses the importance of the project we have to incorporate some mental health availability of treatment in the corrections center opposed to just jailing someone and exacerbating the problem,” Commissioner Maureen Boyle said.

Myers said those who are “mentally ill and dangerous” are housed together with others who are “criminally dangerous” because there is no separate facility for mental health treatment.

Previous Reader reporting also uncovered that people diagnosed with a serious mental illness are often incarcerated twice as long as other inmates and cost the county millions of dollars annually to treat.

The county’s diversion programs are more likely to keep those without mental illness out of incarceration, Myers said, leaving a higher rate of mental illness in the jail.

Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh said that as the county has discussions about mental health treatment, substance use disorders also need to be at the forefront. With the length-of-stay at the county jail typically under four weeks, Cavanaugh said the county may be better able to provide treatment for substance abuse than long-term mental health issues.

“You’re going to have a much higher incidence of people in need of 30, 60 day in-house drug and alcohol treatment then of any other effective form of treatment,” Cavanaugh said.

The County Board also discussed the county’s One-and-Six-Year Highway Improvement Plan for the fiscal year 2024-2029. Dan Kutilek from the county engineering department said their biggest project will be improvements to 168th and State Streets, likely to begin next year.

The Omaha City Council rescinded the tax increment financing plan for Central Park Plaza Tuesday. The plan proposed renovating the existing towers and building a new structure to connect them. Bridget Hadley from city planning said there has been no activity on the project over the past nine months, but the developers said they may come forward with a new proposal in the future.

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