The Benton County jail holds about 600 inmates on average a day, and at any given time about 100 are dealing with some kind of mental illness.
"Most of these inmates can be housed in the normal pod configuration," said Sheriff Steve Keane. But some -- between 12 and 14 -- have significant mental health issues or are suicidal and need to be held in a different setting in the Kennewick jail, he said.
Jail officials are using the booking area -- a situation that's far from ideal, Keane told Benton County commissioners during their regular weekly meeting.
The booking area "is really designed for about a 48-hour transitional period," but it's holding those inmates for extended periods, he said.
Keane said a facility change is needed -- a remodel or perhaps an addition to the jail. He noted the county has a source of revenue for jail improvements, as voters in 1995 approved a 0.1 percent sales tax for juvenile hall improvements and other jail projects.
Keane asked commissioners for approval to seek an architecture firm through a request for qualifications process to evaluate the jail and help come up with a plan.
Commissioners gave the OK. "We have to address this issue," said Commissioner Jim Beaver. "It's not going away."
Keane has said that the jail is experiencing a "mission creep" from a criminal justice institution to one that's increasingly faced with mental health and medical cases.
So far this year, jail officials have intervened in more than 25 suicide attempts, Keane said.
Commissioners earlier this year gave their blessing to a plan to enhance mental health services there by adding a full-time designated mental health professional to the mental health team, as well as a prescriptive services provider who'll work part-time by contract. The designated mental health professional already is on board, and commissioners Tuesday agreed to execute a contract with Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health for a clinical pharmacist.
The sheriff's office also is pursuing a contract for medical services at the jail, a move officials have said could bring a greater amount of coverage for equal or less cost.
w Commissioners asked Ed Thornbrugh, director of the Benton-Franklin human services department, to ask Franklin County commissioners to reconsider their position on a proposed lease agreement for a building on Morain Street in Kennewick. The department has proposed moving its crisis response unit and homeless housing team there.
Benton County commissioners signed off on a seven-year lease, but Franklin County commissioners raised concerns about the pact.
w Sara Schilling: 582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald