KING 5: Jail alternative sought for mentally ill

SEATTLE – A new push to help mentally ill people in King County by keeping them out of jail and the courts could save taxpayers money.

Specifically, we’re talking about the non-violent mentally ill that keep getting in trouble with the law.

Eyvonne Beamon is one of them. She suffers from depression, hears voices and hallucinates.

She’s also been in and out of the King County Jail.

“I was in there every Friday and Saturday night,” said Beamon, a recovering drug user.

She was picked up dozens of times for prostitution and drugs. But Beamon has never hurt anyone and jail didn’t help her.

“They just give you a Tylenol and you wait to get out,” said Beamon.

A group of mental health experts, meeting in Burien, is focused on people like Beamon. They want to open a jail diversion center.

“This is for non-violent offenders who cycle through the system. They are extremely expensive and we never fix their problem,” said King County Sheriff Sue Rahr.

Taxpayers pay thousands of dollars on non-violent misdemeanor offenders who constantly cycle through jail and the courts.

“We have to break that cycle of getting arrested, exhibiting mental illness, going to jail and doing it all over again,” said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

Beamon eventually left the criminal justice system and got treatment. Drug and crime free, she starts a new job next month.

In these hard economic times, finding the money for a jail alternative seems impossible. In King County, the money for the jail diversion center could come from the 0.1 percent sales tax that has already collected more than $45 million to help the mentally ill.

Original story:

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