General Assembly must improve state mental health services | Daily Editorial

Members of the House of Representatives and Senate will be negligent in their duties to civilized society if they let the 2022 General Assembly session pass without major reform of mental health services. They began the 40-day work session knowing that 40 percent or more of inmates in county and state jails have some form or degree of suspected but untreated mental illness.

Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins confirmed this. It’s the same painful story at the Glynn County Detention Center. He said so in an address to a local civic organization last year.

The state can afford to rectify the situation. The income is definitely there. Georgia ended its fiscal 2021 in June with a whopping $3.7 billion surplus. A generous piece of this would help those who cannot help themselves.

Gov. Brian Kemp is already planning to spend a significant portion of the proceeds on two modern prisons. As of now, 600 million US dollars are estimated for its construction. The built-in efficiencies of the proposed 21st century facilities will save costs and replace four old ones.

Legislation to challenge the state’s shameful ranking for the mental health services it provides — the absolute bottom of the 50 states and behind the District of Columbia — is already in the pipeline. Georgia Rep. Sandra Scott, a Rex Democrat, introduced one of the newer ones. Her House Bill 853 proposes an alternative to prison for offenders who have a mental illness but pose no danger to the public. In short, it would offer them something they don’t get: treatment.

As Rep. Scott points out, it costs taxpayers $35,000 a year to lock up a single inmate. Imagine what a difference it would make if funds were invested in a positive option, such as helping men, women and youth with mental health problems – not jail.

These individuals were unfairly punished for behaviors and actions they could not control without proper guidance and medication. Everyone knows that, including law enforcement officials.

Now is the time to do something, whether by Rep. Scott’s will or anyone else’s.

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