No Place to Die

by lizard

Jail is No place to die, and the Indy’s Jessica Mayrer does a great job scratching the surface of core systemic deficiencies that absolutely reach beyond the jail.

Driving that point home is Catherine O’Day, an amazing person I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a few times about this issue. She is a fierce advocate for both inmates in psychiatric crisis who cycle through county detention and the detention staff responsible for their safety. Here’s a bit from the article:

Missoula social worker Catherine O’Day says it’s disheartening to watch detention center inmates get sober and begin planning ways to tackle their addictions, only to watch them fall apart when they leave.

“I see them losing hope,” says O’Day, who, in addition to running a mental health program at the jail, teaches social work at the University of Montana.

Staying sober requires support, O’Day says. Offenders become pessimistic when they discover how little support exists for them. Columbia University found that in 2005, federal, state and local governments spent $74 billion on incarceration, court proceedings, probation and parole for substance-involved adult and juvenile offenders. That number dwarfs the $632 million spent on offender prevention and treatment.

Among the biggest problems, O’Day says, stems from the fact that Missoula has no alcohol detoxification facility. Detoxing can be deadly, as it was for Wasson. But the only place to go through a supervised withdrawal is at a hospital emergency room or in jail. And, as O’Day notes, “We’re not a detox facility. … Jail is not treatment.”


There is of course litigation involved with the four county jail deaths, which limits what Sheriff Ibsen can say, but he does manage to give us a peek into his Sheriff perspective:

In light of the challenges, Ibsen says he’d welcome more community services. “There should be better ways of dealing with them than putting them in jail,” he says, “because jail I don’t think is fixing them.”

Where you might expect a social worker to criticize, O’Day is doing what she can from inside. That’s an important perspective, and provides the conclusion to the article:

As for O’Day, she bristles when talking about allegations directed at Missoula County jailers. She says it’s unfair for detention center staffers to accept blame for an issue that’s rooted in policies and laws that extend far beyond their control.

“It’s really a systemic failure,” she says. “We can’t change the world out there from in here.”

And what happens out there? A 34 year old drifter gets killed by a train and maybe had some help dying.

There is so much I wish I could say about what is happening, but I don’t, because it wouldn’t be ethical. I wish other professionals felt the same way.

  1. d.g.

    And uber-liberal Vice-President of uber-liberal Missoula City Council, Caitlyn Copple’s “Mean Streets Missoula” ordinance will certainly channel more of our chronically-homeless, substance-addicted brothers and sisters into jail and the viscous cycle. Remember when The Independent really was? Remember when something besides Tar Sands caught the interest of their reporters? Who the hell is the editor now? That rag is like a college toss-away production with the pithy addition of a very lucrative “legals” section. I say: Boycott any pseudo-liberal pretender business who pays money to that misbegotten bird-cage-lining pretender publication;

  2. JC

    Not to criticize Catherine O’Day, as I know she means well and has done some great work in the community — maybe the information from her is old — but there are some detox facilities in Missoula other than the ER or County Jail.

    Almost a year ago, the Recovery Center Missoula inpatient addiction treatment facility opened up, and it includes a detox unit with 2 dedicated beds, and can handle more depending on severity or urgency. And they’ve got sliding scales and can take in a few people with limited incomes.

    And the NeuroBehavioral unit at St. Patricks also has an inpatient detox unit. The NBU is a dual-diagnosis facility, treating co-occuring mental illness and addiction, separate from the hospital’s main ER.

    While there is a great need for even more facilities and beds, at least we have these with more being planned. It isn’t as bleak as the Indy portrayed.

    And finally, when O’Day says “…offenders become pessimistic when they discover how little support exists for them”, she neglects to mention that there are vibrant recovery and fellowship communities in Missoula offering support to people seeking help to get and stay clean and sober.

    NA currently has 27 meetings a week in western Montana, serving well over a hundred people a day. AA has around 70 meetings a week in Missoula serving several hundreds of people a day. And there is a recovery club — the 4th D Club with around 40-50 meetings a week for a variety of support needs. And there are many faith-based groups offering support to hundreds more people.

    Part of the problem with statements like O’Day’s being in the press, is that incorrect (or outdated or misconstrued) information can discourage individuals and family from seeking services, thinking that none exist when in fact they do. It is difficult enough for individuals in the throes of addiction and/or mental illness to get treatment and support. Reading discouraging information in the Indy makes it even tougher.

    • lizard19

      there may have been more to the conversation than can be reflected in an article with space constraints, but you make good points JC, especially highlighting the support people can get from the recovery community.

      the folks I’m assuming O’Day works with probably don’t have the resources to access those detox bed at Recovery Center Missoula. sliding scale is good, but the support RCM was hoping to receive from the state never materialized, from what I understand.

      the St. Pat’s Neuro-Behavioral Unit is also difficult to access unless an individual is suicidal, and even then they can only get in to the Neuro-Behavioral Unit after being assessed by a mental health professional. those assessments can’t be done unless the patient is below .08 BAC.

      things are not good right now. the jail and the ER are in crisis.

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