The county’s top jailer gets a national stage to call for mental health services for inmates

Find out why Multnomah County Sheriff’s Captain Bobbi Luna, in charge of our jails, says her additional duties as President of the American Jail Association will benefit both those in custody – and everyday citizens …

Here, at the annual meeting of the American Jail Association, at the Oregon Convention Center, MCSO Captain Bobbi Luna is about to become President of that national trade association.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Typically, we don’t cover national conventions that meet in Portland.

But, when we were invited to see Multnomah County Sheriff’s Captain Bobbi Luna – she’s in charge of the Bookings Unit and Programs Unit with the Multnomah County Detention Center and Inverness Jail – be sworn in as President of the American Jail Association (AJA), we attended the ceremony.

Before the program started, a little before noon on Sunday, May 23, we talked with Captain Luna. “In November, I’ll celebrate 27 years with the Sheriff’s Office. It’s been a wonderful career choice.”

Most interesting to her, she said, is the variety in her work. “No two days look exactly the same, because we’re dealing with people; it’s a people business.”

Captain Luna says she’s thrilled to be inducted into national office here in Portland.

One of four women ever elected to the post
Dressed in her Class A uniform, Luna said she was pleased to serve as president of her national trade organization. “I’ll be one of four women who’ve held the office. It’s a very big honor, it’s huge.”

The American Jail Association, Luna told us, represents about 3,300 jails across the nation. “Every community has a jail. We’re the ‘silent partner’ in the justice system; working hard 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, to support community safety.”

One of the best things about being part of a national organization, Luna pointed out, is that she can advocate on behalf of improvements in our jails, work to find appropriate funding and resources and focus on critical issues – such as lack of mental care funding in jails – on a “national stage”.

Captain Luna is sworn in as President of the American Jail Association.

Sworn in after business meeting
After the outgoing president tended to organization business, and there new officers were announced, Luna took the AJA oath of office.

Luna addressed the assembly, “It’s a tremendous honor to been sworn in as your president. It’s an even greater honor for me to be part of the National AJA Conferences here this week. I am remarkably proud that our Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office is hosting the conference; and take office here in my hometown, with my family and friends present.”

Each year, Luna said, the AJA has delivered high-quality training and networking experiences to the annual training conference, and showed new equipment at their Jail Expo.

“[During the conference] you’ll not only have an opportunity to learn from leaders in our field, will also be celebrating 29 years of setting the standard and networking for American jails.”

In her address, Luna highlights the association’s work to lobby Congress to provide better mental health care in jails.

Concerns about mental health surface
One of the issues addressed in the conference, Luna said, was that of the mentally ill in the justice system.

After her address, Luna took a few moments to expand on the topic, and how it relates to Multnomah County jails.

“As I said in my remarks, there’s a focus across the nation on issues of the mentally ill and America’s jails, and meeting their needs as they re-enter the community. This means making sure that they have the resources they need in the community.”

Asked what resources were available, Luna replied, “That is the problem. For example, a big problem is that federal entitlements that an individual has, when arrested, are all suspended. Sometimes it’s difficult to get them back.”

She noted that even if the primary reason a person is in jail is a mental health issue, their Social Security or disability or SSI or SSD, along with medication funding and their Veterans benefits, all stop. “We’re working with [the U.S.] Congress on the Recidivism Reduction Act, to see if those benefits can be immediately reinstated.”

In addition to running typical jail operations, Luna says a good portion of their budget goes for psychotropic medications for the mentally ill.

Health care costs strain budgets
The Multnomah County Jails spends more than $100,000 annually on psychotropic medications, added Luna. “These are medications are needed to treat the seriously mentally ill. And, many of these people, with serious mental illnesses, don’t touch our jail systems only once. They’re touching our jail systems time and time again, plowing through the resources of the local jurisdiction.”

It’s as if the jail has a revolving door for people with mental illness, Luna told us. “They get stabilized in jail. But when they go back out in the community, and the resources are not available to them, they destabilize, and roll right back into the jail.”

Planning for improvement
It’s not a hopeless situation, Luna said. “I think there’s some really exciting work going on in Multnomah County around these issues. Just recently, our local Public Safety Coordinating Council sponsored a planning session where we used the GAINS* intercept model.

For two days, Luna said, a panel made up of criminal court judges, jailers, mental health advocates and others looked to find ways to divert the mentally ill from our jails. The planning process continues.

Regarding funding, Luna stated, “What we are looking to do, is to work with existing resources by the reframing of services already provided. By redirecting funding and realigning services, hopefully we can create better outcomes.”

* GAINS is a United States Center for Mental Health Services of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration strategy:

  • Gathering information
  • Assessing what works
  • Interpreting/integrating the facts
  • Networking
  • Stimulating change

Multnomah County Sheriff Daniel Staton congratulates Captain Bobbi Luna on being named President of the national association.

For more information on the Multnomah County Jail system, see their website: CLICK HERE. To learn more about the American Jail Association, CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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