Teleconferencing will speed up jail evaluations

Mental health professionals will soon be evaluating inmates at Island County Jail via videoconferencing.

The jail is one of four in the state that were picked to participate in a telehealth pilot program to evaluate how well the technology translates to mental health evaluations, according to David Luxton of the state Office of Forensic Mental Health Services. Snohomish, Yakima and Grays Harbor counties are also participating.

Luxton said the purpose of teleconferencing is to cut down on the time it takes inmates to receive court-ordered competency evaluations from Western State Hospital.

Jail Chief Jose Briones said the wait time has been a real problem at the Island County jail.

“It can take days, weeks or sometimes even months,” he said.

As a result, court cases grind to a halt. Sometimes defendants end up serving more time in jail than their sentences because they were waiting 70-90 days for an evaluation and then waiting additional time for competency restoration, Briones said.

Luxton said the first evaluation through teleconferencing occurred at the Snohomish County jail a few weeks ago and it went well.

The inmate was worried that he was being evaluated by robots through the teleconferencing system, which actually provided the evaluator with a pretty good clue to the state of his mental health, he said.

The Office of Forensic Mental Health Services is a relatively new department within the Department of Social and Health Services.

The purpose of the department, according to its mission statement, “is to lead and manage a system of forensic mental health care that assists the courts and justice system to protect both public safety and the rights of accused mentally ill persons, by providing timely, high quality, and data informed mental health services.”

Teleconferencing mental health evaluations for jail inmates may help the state respond to a court decision commonly referred to as the Trueblood case. In 2015, the U.S. District Court ruled that the state Department of Social and Health Services was violating the rights of inmates suffering from mental health disabilities and ordered the state to complete evaluations within a certain time frame.

The state is fined for every day past the timeline that an inmate waits.

Inmates have to agree to be evaluated through the telehealth program, Briones said, but it could cut down the wait time to just two or three days.

The inmate would sit in front of a large screen and a camera and communicate remotely with a mental health professional.

The technology isn’t new; there are a variety of telehealth tools that connect health providers with patients across the country. Luxton, in fact, worked to set up telehealth systems within the U.S. military.

More in News

ALERT aims to help residents prepare

Disaster preparedness may not be anyone’s idea of a good time, but… Continue reading

Harvest Feast feeds 600 families

Students and families celebrate an early Thanksgiving

Scammers using ballot signature issue in ruse

Voters who had an issue with the signature on their ballots should… Continue reading

Board to decide trail proposals

Commissioners with South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District are expected to make… Continue reading

Hospital suffers budget blow

WhidbeyHealth suffered an unplanned budget hit this year, making September “not such… Continue reading

Mobile Turkey Unit firing up

‘Nobody on this island needs to go without a meal on Thanksgiving

South Whidbey Jazz Ensemble shines at UW invitational

The South Whidbey High School Jazz Ensemble had great success at the… Continue reading

Fundraiser helping homeless is Nov. 18

The Whidbey Homeless Coalition is in the midst of one of its… Continue reading

Man accused of making threat at ‘drug house’

An assault was reported at a Clinton house that was the site… Continue reading

Most Read