Nancy Thellman, Douglas County Commissioner, tackled the issue currently facing Douglas County voters—whether or not to approve a ½-cent increase to the sales tax. The County Commission has asked for the sales tax increase in order to fund expansion of the county jail and to create a mental health crisis center with related services.
According to Thellman, it was ten years ago when Ken McGovern, Douglas County Sheriff, first came to the County Commission to warn about the jail’s capacity. Intended to house 167 inmates, Thellman says that the facility currently averages 50-80 people over that number each day. Deputies routinely transport the extra inmates to other jails, a solution that costs $1.3 million each year. When inmates are housed at other jails, Douglas County rehabilitation services are unavailable to them. Thellman says that recidivism is up nearly 50% since the overcrowding has worsened. Violent interactions in the jail are now more frequent.
Douglas County has one of the lowest incarcerations rates in the state and in the nation, declares Thellman. The behavioral health court is functioning well. There are seven programs to divert people from the jail currently in place. Around 150 people are now free from jail because of those programs.
A mental health crisis center for adults that would also be funded by the proposed sales tax increase. In addition to crisis services, the plan includes prevention programs and transitional housing for those living with mental health issues.