Georgia County Government - Winter 2015 - (Page 9)
Counties Affected by Mental Illness Issues
By Charlotte J. Nash
business, and faith
success in reducing
the high cost of
and reducing the
need for public
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
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
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
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 www.accg.org
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia County Government - Winter 2015
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