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Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 11:52am

Keeping The Mentally Ill Out Of Jail

A partnership between the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the National Alliance on Mental Illness is working to keep Georgia’s jails from turning into asylums.
The project focuses on keeping 100 Savannah patients out of jail.

Because mentally ill people often find themselves in police custody, their names are flagged in a law enforcement database. An arresting officer would check for the person’s name. If it’s there, a message instructs the officer to call a caseworker before taking the patient to jail.

The project is only funded in 34 Southeast Georgia counties but law enforcement across the state, like Chief Lee Weems in Oconnee County are paying close attention to the results:

“I think it will result in less people in prison and county jails, it’s going to lower the amount of caseloads going through the criminal justice system, and because of all that, it’s going to reduce the amount of money we’re spending on the criminal justice system, while at the same time, actually getting these people help.”

Critics question whether the state would fund enough mental health treatment alternatives to make the program viable statewide.