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The Cost of Caring for Mentally Ill Inmates

State spending on mental health care for prison inmates has nearly quadrupled in the past two decades. Expenditures on the Colorado Department of Corrections’ “mental health subprogram” increased from about $4.4 million in fiscal year 2000-01 to nearly $17 million in fiscal year 2017-18, the department reports. Subprogram expenses include mental health clinician salaries and contracts for psychiatric services but do not cover the cost of psychiatric medications.

Nationwide, jails spend 2 to 3 times more on inmates who require mental health care than on inmates who don’t have those needs, the National Association of Counties estimates. El Paso County does not track exactly how much taxpayer money is spent caring for mentally ill inmates in its jail, but the county paid its medical contractor more than $7.4 million last year for inmate health care services.