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Washington County Jail wins Detention Facility Innovation Award

Working with Texas A&M Health, the jail has increased access to mental health care

The Washington County Jail (WCJ) was recently named the winner of the Detention Facility Innovation Award by The National Institute for Jail Operations, which presents this award to detention facilities that have demonstrated “exceptional achievement in developing and/or enhancing a particular aspect or feature in the facility or in the operations of the facility in line with the mission of the sheriff’s office during the past year.” This award is largely due to the internal changes WCJ has made to increase access to mental health care for their residents.

To improve mental health services and reduce recidivism rates, WCJ collaborated with Texas A&M’s Telebehavioral Care Program (TBC), which is within the Texas A&M College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and local MHMR staff in the fall of 2019. The TBC, which provides virtual counseling services to individuals within the Brazos Valley, has become one of the nation’s leading telemental health providers through its innovative use of telehealth technology. This collaboration between the TBC and the WCJ formed after Chief Deputy Eric Hensley of WCJ reached out to Carly McCord, PhD, the director of the TBC, during a meeting at the Washington County commissioners court about community updates. Both parties agreed that providing mental health services remotely could be an effective way to reach a population that faces many barriers to quality care.

Isaac Saldivar, PhD, who is a licensed psychologist at the TBC, has been responsible for structuring and implementing group therapy sessions at the jail. “Seeking Safety,” which is a group designed for individuals with a history of trauma and/or addiction, helps patients develop coping skills necessary for maintaining safe relationships, thinking and actions. Saldivar also runs an anger management group that teaches relaxation techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. He said these groups not only teach patients valuable coping strategies but also allow them to have a deeper understanding about anger, trauma and addiction in their personal lives.

“I believe that people have a natural tendency for growth, but things like trauma and anger can prevent them from reaching their full potential. My goal as a therapist is to plant seeds and provide the necessary conditions to nurture the growing process,” Saldivar said. “When counseling produces a successful outcome, it’s not just one person you have affected; this is someone’s grandson, father, cousin, etc. When you can change somebody’s functioning, there are so many people in that person’s web you have also impacted.”

Both McCord and Saldivar said that they have been impressed by WCJ’s commitment to providing mental health services for their residents. WCJ views mental health care as an effective way to prevent repeat offenses, and therefore plans to continue its partnership with the TBC going forward. As the TBC’s role at the jail expands, Saldivar plans to employ Texas A&M counseling psychology doctoral students to help conduct therapy sessions. Saldivar also intends to create additional therapy groups that involve mindfulness, problem solving and social skills, as well as offer psychological assessments for patients.

Article written by Daniel Duffeck

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