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Beaverhead County inmate says jail lacking in mental health services

Posted at 5:54 PM, Dec 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-14 11:04:45-05

DILLON — You certainly don’t want to end up here when visiting Beaverhead County. It’s a small jail in the largest county in the state. At least one inmate has complained about the conditions here, but officials say it’s not so bad for being in jail.

“I just tell them, ‘This isn’t the Hilton, this is jail.’ We don’t have a lot of services provided. You know, if you want all that, don’t go to jail,” said Beaverhead County Sheriff David Wendt.

Inmate Mark Neal was arrested in September in connection with assaulting a Beaverhead County deputy. He claims he’s been denied proper mental health services.

“I’ve told the guards several times, ‘Dude, I just want to kill myself, I want to die. Hey, I need help. Can I talk to you? I don’t want to wake up.’ And the guards just blow you off. They don’t want to help you,” Neal said in a phone call to KXLF from the jail.

The sheriff said inmates have access to mental health professionals, though it’s mainly done remotely and rarely in person.

“It’s all by Zoom, we don’t have anybody in Beaverhead County. We can set them up with a Zoom with a counselor or a mental eval,” said Wendt.

Neal, who also faces felony charges in Butte-Silver Bow in connection with threatening his wife with a knife, claims other inmates in the Beaverhead jail have complaints about conditions there, including lack of exposure to daylight.

“In your general population pod, for 24 hours a day you can walk around inside there, but there’s literally no daylight, zero. There’s a guy that been here, like I said, 13 or 14 months. He has literally had ten, ten and a half hours of daylight,” said Neal.

The sheriff claims Neal is the only inmate that he is aware of that’s creating a fuss.

“They can function in the real world just fine, but the minute they get in jail, they start having problems. You got to determine, is it a real problem they’re having? Or is it a get-out-of jail card?” said the sheriff.

According to the state jail standards, inmates claiming to be suicidal must remain under observation until they can be seen by a mental health professional.

“They have plenty of resources to reach out to, and if they want somebody to talk to, right next to the phones in the jail is that 988 number. They can call the suicide hotline or a counselor, and if they need more, they can ask us or their lawyer can ask us,” said Wendt.

The Beaverhead jail has six detention officers who oversee about 15 inmates on average. The sheriff is confident in his staff and the security of the inmates.

“They’ve got it pretty easy. It’s nice down there. I mean, it’s jail, but it’s a pretty nice setup,” according to the sheriff.

Neal remains in custody in the Dillon jail. He has pleaded not guilty to charges in Beaverhead County and Butte-Silver Bow County. Neal also is awaiting extradition to Arizona on charges there.