‘At the jail we don’t have the resources’: County approves new center to serve as alternative to jail

Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher shares his office's support for the crisis center to be built in the county, St. George, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Washington County officials recently approved an agreement with the Southwest Behavioral Health Center to partner on a new substance abuse and mental health crisis center.

Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke tells the County Commission about the purpose of the crisis center set to be built in the county, St. George, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

During a Washington County Commission meeting Tuesday, County Attorney Eric Clarke said the crisis center will provide a place where law enforcement can take people in crisis due to mental health or substance abuse issues instead of jail.

“It’s a safe place they can go and be off the streets and out of the house and can be monitored by mental health professionals,” he said. “And before they leave, they have a plan to address whatever issue they have so that they aren’t coming back.”

Currently, the only real option police officers have for people in crisis is taking them to the jail, a place that isn’t suited to address the mental health and substance abuse needs individuals may be dealing with at the time.

“We’ve been extremely supportive of this,” Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulispher said of the agreement. “At the jail we don’t have the resources necessary to provide for these individuals with the support they need.”

Having the option to take someone in crisis to the appropriate facility will be a great benefit to those in need and the community overall, Clarke said, adding that those who are able to be taken to the crisis center may also be able to avoid being charged with an offense related to whatever prompted the police to respond to their case originally.

Both Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox and Undersheriff James Stanley noted that having the option of the new facility may also help those in crisis ultimately keep their current employment, as a stay in jail may lead to being fired otherwise.

Helping that person stay employed could also help keep the individual and their families from dealing with an additional financial crisis brought on by job loss, Cox said.

“I think this will be a good thing,” he said.

The new facility will be built in Hurricane on county-owned land near the current location of the Department of Motor Vehicles office at 102 S. 5300 West, which also places it close to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Purgatory Correctional Facility.

State funds are applied to the construction of the facility and administrated through the county. Once built, the facility will be managed by personnel from the Southwest Behavioral Health Center.

MRW Design and Watts Construction were selected Tuesday to design and build the facility.

“The need is immediate,” Commissioner Gil Almquist said.

The Washington County Commission honored County Clerk/Auditor Kim Hafen, who is retiring after serving over 20 years with the county, St. George, Utah, June 15, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

In other news, the County Commission and county staff shared a presentation honoring County Clerk/Auditor Kim Hafen.

Hafen is retiring after over 20 years of service with the county and is the second elected county official to recently announce their retirement.

Earlier this month, Cox announced he was retiring due to personal and health reasons. He will leave the County Commission at the end of July.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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