Programs at Denver County Jail helping inmates improve mental health

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DENVER — It’s difficult for one to collect their thoughts within the walls of the Denver County Jail along Smith Road near Stapleton. Yet for a period of time, a half-dozen inmates find themselves removed from this environment, finding focus and relaxation.

“It gives them tools deal with daily life at the jail,” said Enid Nieves with the Center for Trauma and Resilience.

Nieves has been coming to the jail, teaching inmates yoga and small mindfulness techniques to help with their mental health and decision making.

“Breathe, think about the situation and then react, instead of just going straight to the reaction part,” Nieves said.

“It’s just a short class, but for that short class, you can almost forget your surroundings and where you are,” said inmate Aly Trimmer.

More than half of inmates in Denver County Jail have some degree of mental health problem, and for women, the rate is closer to 86 percent, according to Dr. Denise Vargas with Denver Health Medical Center.

“Our job is also to correctly diagnose them so we can get them a treatment plan that is matching to their needs,” said Dr. Vargas. She’s been working with the population as a clinical psychologist for seven years.

“This is not just a one-person show” Vargas said. “We’re all helping to do that. Officers will flag inmates to me that they think need me to look at them.”

Vargas says the roots for most mental health issues she sees in patients at the jail starts with trauma at an early age.

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