About 6 years ago, I shared how a former student was serving 15 years in prison at a meeting in which then Sheriff Mascher attended. I followed up with Sheriff Mascher and asked how the jail was handling people with mental health or substance abuse issues. With an acute awareness that this was an issue, and recognition that jails were established to keep people that committed serious crimes and are not treatment centers, came the creation of what is now the Yavapai Justice and Mental Health Coalition.
Sheriff Mascher understood from the beginning that top level people had to be brought in from county agencies because if they are on board, they can help bring together other community based agencies. Sheriff Mascher and Sheriff Rhodes really understood that.
At the beginning then Jail Commander David Rhodes explained that over 200,000 people are arrested and released in Arizona every year. The money that is spent is ridiculous. We do not want people with mental health substance abuse issues to be in jail when they really need support and services upfront so they don’t come back.
The first thing Sheriff Mascher did was develop the jail’s first mental health unit. That was going to be for inmates that had some challenges, that were stable, and they were either on medications or they did not need them. There was a willingness to go into the special cell blocks and we had 15-20 individuals in there. I went multiple times a week, meeting inmates and saying – Hey, what brought you here? What do you need? What can I do so you don’t come back? – I wasn't perceived as a threat because I wasn't in a uniform, they all knew I was retired, and they trusted me. For some of them, they needed GED support. Some of them had lost their IDs. I helped get them some necessary supports such as drivers licenses and social security cards.
This was really the very beginning. Beya Thayer’s knowledge of AHCCCS from her previous job led Sheriff Masher to develop a contract with AHCCCS. When inmates come to jail, they could not use their AHCCCS since it is a federally paid insurance so their insurance was cancelled. Then, when they left jail, it would take 2-3 weeks to get them back on AHCCCS– which was crazy because then they were not able to get their meds and their appointments. With Beya working with Sheriff Mascher, he was able to contract with AHCCCS so that an incarcerated person’s insurance was just suspended and reinstated quickly after release.
There was state legislative interest in helping people with mental health issues who became incarcerated. Sheriff Mascher and Sheriff Rhodes went down to the Capitol and became involved legislatively. Senator Sylvia Allen introduced legislation which provided a million and a half dollars over three years to address mental health needs of those who are arrested. Therefore, Beya was hired, and that is how Reach Out started. Beya had a close relationship with Spectrum, Southwest, and West Yavapai and a history of helping with supporting Mobile Crisis teams from her previous work with Health Choice. She was asked to build on those relationships with Yavapai’s justice teams.
Sheriff Mascher and Sheriff Rhodes really understood that government and community based agencies have to work together. The reason we were able to get buy in from all sides is that you can talk about it from a social justice issue; these people are not criminals, they have an illness. It is really incredible where we are 6 years later. It really is the whole team. We work really well as a team. We all had to come out of the silos. Public safety agencies do not work alone, we need everybody.