Jails across the state, including in Floyd County, are struggling to deal with an increasing number of inmates with mental health and addictive disorders.
And it’s a revolving door, according to Bonnie Moore, president of NAMI Rome.
“There’s not housing when they get out, there’s not medication, there’s not follow-up,” Moore told County Commissioners during a caucus discussion last week. “They end up back in the system, and who’s paying for that? We as Floyd County taxpayers.”
Sgt. Carrie Edge of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office attended with Moore to urge the board to join a national initiative called Stepping Up aimed at providing a support system to reduce recidivism.
A study indicates that 23 percent of Floyd County’s inmates have mental health issues, “but we know it’s probably well over 50 percent,” Moore said.
Edge said Jail Administrator Bob Sapp tries to connect families with outside resources that can help an inmate, if they ask for assistance.
“Because we know they’ll be coming back here to re-offend,” she said.
When it works, “it is transforming lives,” she added, but the lack of sustained intervention feeds the connection between mental illness and drug abuse.
“They are using (street) drugs to treat their illness, and we need to break that cycle,” Edge said.
Commissioner Allison Watters asked about the county’s relatively new drug and mental health courts, which guide offenders through long-term treatment and recovery programs. Moore said it’s a good start.
“They don’t have enough slots; we need more of that. And people need a safety net when they get out. But they’re helping,” she said.
The Stepping Up initiative is backed by a range of heavy-hitters in Georgia, including Justice Michael P. Boggs of the state Supreme Court, GBI Director Vernon Keenan, NAMI Georgia and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
The first step is for the board to pass a resolution committing to develop an action plan. An online toolkit assembled by national partners -- including the Department of Justice and the American Psychiatric Foundation -- would be available as a guide.
Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace said she and several board members plan to attend an ACCG mental health summit set for Aug. 1 in Macon. Boggs is among the scheduled speakers, along with public health and behavioral health officials and law enforcement officers.
“We’re hoping this will give us some ideas of what has worked in other areas,” Wallace said. “We will certainly follow up with you after the meeting.”
The Stepping Up toolkit focuses on six major actions, beginning with convening a diverse team of stakeholders to work on the issue.
Board members talked about creating a task force when the county joined a class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers earlier this year and Watters said it’s time to revisit the concept. Commissioner Scotty Hancock said the stumbling block has been the question of who would lead it.
“We want to help, but we can’t take it on day to day,” Hancock said.
The AGGC summit and Stepping Up program could provide an answer, and both Moore and Edge said their agencies would play a role.
“The important thing is using your influence and affluence to bring people to the table,” Edge said.