The National Association of Counties and the National Sheriffs’ Association announced this week the formation of a joint task force to reduce jail inmate recidivism through continuity of health care services.

Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott has already implemented a jail diversion program to help keep those who need treatment for drugs or mental illness out the Missoula County Jail, according to spokeswoman Brenda Bassett.

“Over-incarceration is a nationwide problem,” said Bassett. “When Sheriff McDermott took office he commissioned a group of stakeholders to start a panel and better serve the people that come into our facility if they’re having a mental health crisis or they just don’t belong in jail and can be better served somewhere else.”

Bassett said the Missoula County Jail Diversion plan has proven to be an example to other facilities across the state.

“Our jail diversion plan actually became a blueprint for the rest of the state,” she said. “So, now at our facility in stead of having limited care throughout the day, now we have 24/7 care. Say someone comes in with a mental health crisis, they have access to a caseworker that can help them, they have mental health evaluators who can assess them and hopefully get them the medication they need or to a different place, so it’s been very good for us and we’ve seen really great results.”

Bassett said one of the driving forces behind the jail diversion effort was to forestall the need for a new larger jail.

“We’re seeing a lot more people in Missoula County than ever and the effort that Sheriff McDermott has put into the (Jail Diversion) plan was because he didn’t want to build a bigger facility,” she said. “We have seen the numbers get better and we’re hoping that the work we’re doing with different groups is just going to get that much better.”

The Jail Diversion plan was coauthored by former legislator Cynthia Wolken, now an administrator at the Montana Department of Corrections.