Georgia County Government - Winter 2015 - (Page 9)

PresIdent's MessAGe Counties Affected by Mental Illness Issues By Charlotte J. Nash President >> collaboration among the judiciary, business, and faith communities, and local nonprofits, has demonstrated success in reducing outstanding child support obligations, improving family dynamics, avoiding the high cost of incarceration, and reducing the need for public assistance. i'm glad this magazine is devoted to the intersection of public safety and human services. There is no doubt that dealing with mental illness is expensive and troubling for county governments, and how we respond to that challenge can have profound effects on the quality of life for everyone in our communities. A U.S. Department of Justice study in 2006 found that more than half of all jail and prison inmates had some symptoms of mental illness and three quarters of those met criteria for substance abuse or dependence. Inmates with a mental health problem were twice as likely to have been homeless and three times as likely to have been physically or sexually abused before they were arrested. Addressing these underlying issues is critical if we are to slow the revolving doors of our jails and prisons. With changes in the approach to mental illness treatment that have placed more individuals with mental illness back in the community, we are all seeing an impact on services. Unfortunately, local public safety personnel and jail facilities have become de facto mental health care providers. Furthermore, there are limited resources available at any level to help lessen the impact on our communities and our budgets. In Gwinnett, we are grappling with the impacts of mental illness through many avenues. Perhaps your county is doing the same. One of the ways we can help each other is by sharing information. I will start the conversation by talking a little about what we are doing in Gwinnett. The percentage of people with persistent and severe mental illness in jail settings nationally is about 18 percent, according to Celia Brown, health services administrator at the Gwinnett County Jail. Gwinnett's percentage is a little lower, around 10 percent, thanks to counseling and therapeutic interventions along with alternative treatments. A crisis stabilization unit in our jail offers intense treatment to individuals who are suicidal or hallucinating, while separate male and female units for treating severe mental illnesses provide a range of therapies. Higher functioning people in the general jail population can also receive counseling and medication and attend group therapy sessions. "Our staff works closely with the solicitor, the sheriff, and community groups like United Way to get individuals the help they need and to ease their re-entry into the community," Brown says. We have also set up accountability courts that divert people with serious issues-like mental health or substance abuse-away from traditional courts and incarceration and into treatment instead. Simply locking such people in a cell does little to correct the problems that brought them to the criminal justice system in the first place. Over the past quarter century, drug courts have served more than 1.4 million individuals nationally, according to the National Association of Drug Court Administrators. They can demonstrate significantly improved outcomes, reduce drug abuse and crime, and cost less over the long-term than other justice strategies. The secret to success is bringing public safety and public health professionals together to deal with these issues. I am grateful every day for the hard work and dedication that make our accountability courts effective. Successful outcomes with the initial drug court have convinced us to expand the approach to DUI, mental health, parenting, and veterans' issues, all areas where the threat of punishment was not deterring aberrant behaviors. Our mental health court, for example, brings treatment providers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and community advocates together under judicial oversight to provide treatment as an alternative to jail time. Targeting offenders whose crime was likely a result of mental illness, it links participants to a range of services: counseling, therapy, Social Security, housing, substance abuse treatment, and employment. Collaboration among the judiciary, business, and faith communities, and local nonprofits, has demonstrated success in reducing outstanding child support obligations, improving family dynamics, avoiding the high cost of incarceration, and reducing the need for public assistance. I know these programs are making a difference in Gwinnett County by offering appropriate treatment. Instead of punishment; they are saving money in the long run and reducing return trips to our jail and prison. I expect that many of you have success stories you can share as well. While our communities differ across the state and the resources that are available vary, we can learn from each other. So take the time to hear how others are tackling mental health issues, and let your fellow commissioners know what your community is doing. Of course, each county must decide how to deal with these issues in their community, but I urge all county leaders to take a look at innovative approaches that can give better results than traditional criminal justice systems. Since local governments face these issues every day, it is up to us to find effective solutions. ■ Winter 2015 9

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia County Government - Winter 2015

President’s Message
Director’s Desk
Legislative Preview
ACCG District Days
The Impact of Body Worn Cameras
Georgia House Bill 310: What it Really Means to Local Governments and Communities
Mobile Integrated Healthcare/ Community Paramedicine – In your County’s Future?
Q & A With Dr. Jill Mabley, Medical Director of Cherokee County Fire & EMS
Three Technologies Improve Efficiencies in Georgia County Jails and Courts
Counties and Inmate Medical Assistance
Dealing with the Mentally Ill in Jails
News & Notes
Index of Advertisers

Georgia County Government - Winter 2015