Jail-based Behavioral Services seek to diminish revolving door effect at Moffat County Jail
Torrance Rykhus sees daily the interweaving of criminality and trauma.
As a mental health therapist working with Moffat County Jail, it’s his job to help rehabilitate and heal a victim of trauma who has become a perpetrator.
While a history of trauma is by no means a predictor of future criminal behavior, criminal behavior extremely often belies a history of trauma.
And trauma is itself a strong predictor of mental illness.
Once an individual commits a crime and is booked into the Moffat County Jail, it’s too late to prevent the past trauma — addiction, childhood abuse, poverty, and so much more — that may have contributed to their arrival in the facility.
But Rykhus is there to offer a chance for such individuals to grow — his services are a key part of Jail-based Behavioral Services, or JBBS.
“We introduce what therapy can be like while they’re in the jail,” Rykhus said. “And we encourage them to transition into the community and continue therapy so they can become what they want to become — successful in their own eyes.”
Rykhus works with Lt. Tim Jantz, the man who Rykhus said is largely responsible for bringing the relatively new JBBS, a state-based program, to Moffat County in 2019.
“The state has looked at the number of incarcerated individuals over a length of time with undiagnosed or even diagnosed mental health issues,” Jantz said. “They’re looking at recidivism and the fact that a number of incarcerated individuals (who committed what) they consider lower-level crimes — thefts, substance abuse, crimes committed through substance abuse — a lot of inmates, and individuals in general, have substance abuse issues due to undiagnosed underlying mental health issues. That’s juvenile and on.”
Jantz said that the discovery was that substance abuse is often used to mask mental illness for those who end up committing criminal acts.
“It ranges from post-traumatic stress disorder to psychosis, schizophrenia, even (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder),” Jantz said. “We have these conversations with inmates and it’s, ‘Listen, I was diagnosed as a kid in grade school, but I came out of school and couldn’t afford the medication,’ or maybe they didn’t like how the medication made them feel, so they used other substances to mask that pain.”
Jantz said the state saw this problem go back farther than cuts to mental health funding by the federal government, though that contributed.
“The state said we’re going to fund this one way or another,” he said. “Either pay for it in mental health hospitals and substance abuse clinics or something else. They’ve shown if we can reach people while they’re incarcerated, attempt to manage some of these issues, substance abuse issues and others, and get them the assistance they need with substance abuse or mental health issues, if we can end that cycle, it benefits everybody in the community.”
The program is new, and it’s impossible to accurately or definitively determine its effectiveness locally. But Rykhus said their data shows 40% of JBBS patients have followed up with counseling and other services once released from the jail.
“It’s hard to say (with such a small sample), but I’d say yes, some people that may have been in that revolving-door scenario have not been back,” Rykhus said.
Rykhus said the intake process for folks coming into the jail now includes mental health questions and evaluations. Rykhus and his team can then provide therapeutic services to inmates.
“They have to ask for help, but that engages them in the process,” Jantz said. “There’s criteria, (Rykhus) has checklists. It’s all confidential, of course. We don’t share information, and builds trust with the inmate, that what he discusses with them — unless it’s an emergency situation for safety — it’s confidential.”
Rykhus offers individual and group therapy to those enrolled in the services. As a fully licensed addictions counselor, he can work with in-house physicians to prescribe appropriate medication when necessary.
“There’s medications for, say opiate addiction, to help with cravings, so they’re not going through extreme withdrawals,” Rykhus said. “We have a family mental health nurse practitioner who can diagnose and prescribe mental health medication coming in twice a month. They have access to a wide range of medications — some aren’t allowed in the jail, but there are other options that don’t have the risk of redistribution within the jail.”
Rykhus said addiction was one of the primary factors involved in a descent into criminal behavior for many incarcerated at the jail. But, he said, there’s more to it than that.
“Recent statistics on just addictions is that over 70% of people with active addiction have a history of trauma, and could meet criteria for PTSD,” he said. “That’s a huge number. When they talk about gateway drugs, the real gateway to addiction is a history of trauma. Science backs that up. That gives you some compassion.”
Jantz said the data at this point is primarily anecdotal, but that he’s observing an impact from the program.
“We can’t give names of course, but I know for a fact and can attest that people have come here that I’ve run into later on the street who have expressed gratitude for this facility and for (Rykhus), who have turned their lives around. The transformations are incredible,” Jantz said.
Joel Miller, a program manager for JBBS with the state’s Office of Behavioral Health, said that between Rykhus and Jantz, the Moffat County program is in particularly good hands.
“They aren’t just doing someone at intake and a therapist inside the jail,” Miller said. “I’m getting emails from Torrance all the time with ideas of ways to make this better for the people they’re trying to help.”
Miller said the concept behind JBBS, which started as a more regional effort before being divided into county-run programs under state supervision, was in part to take advantage of the opportunity to truly rehabilitate folks who were incarcerated, rather than the common alternative, which is to allow incarceration to cause more trauma on its own.
Rykhus said the buy-in from jail staff and from inmates is critical for the program’s success.
“It’s not that we weren’t before, but if we can treat human beings in this jail with dignity and respect, it makes a huge difference,” he said. “People are noticing that the inmates are more pleasant — for the most part, obviously not everybody — but we’re getting good feedback. Even from judges; I’ve had the judges speak to me about how this particular person when they were at pretrial versus their attitude when they were sentenced, how different it was. The thought process was different. We’re getting buy-in on multiple levels, and people are believing in this program.”
Jantz said that, despite 40 years in law enforcement running him along a jaded edge, he’s felt great compassion for these folks and wants to help them get better.
“There are bad people, I’ve seen it,” he said. “But all in all, these are somebody’s son or daughter, husband, wife, brother, sister. They’re human beings affected in this community. I think everyone (who gets better) is a win.”
The Craig Press is holding an event titled The Longevity Project in which a panel and keynote speaker will address local and national mental health issues. The event is $10 to enter, Wednesday, September 22, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Come learn more with us about this critical issue.
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