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Henry Joel Simmons | May 31, 2011
Due to a shortage of proper facilities and care, prisons have become the de facto home for the mentally ill and a significant financial burden on state corrections budgets. (Mental health patients cost $10,000 – 20,000 more per year than sound-minded inmates.) Mentally ill prisoners also have significantly higher recidivism rates (due to the dearth of prison rehabilitative services), which only increases the financial burden on states. The problem is nationwide in scope, and little is being done to remedy it.
Georgia, however, has just passed legislation (in the midst of a budget crisis) to establish a large number of mental health courts. Georgia Governor Deal had this to say:
“The creation of the mental health courts is a step in our approach to provide judicial supervision, appropriate treatment and rehabilitation and to reduce the frequency of recidivism, particularly among those with substance abuse disorders… Far too many young people and adults suffering from addiction are crowding our jails, costing our state millions and depleting our workforce…”
The twelve mental health courts already existing in Georgia are funded exclusively by the county governments. The new legislation, however, allows for state funding to be redirected toward the construction of new facilities. David Sweat, the judge responsible for the creation of one of the existing courts and the drafter of the bill said, “The change in people who participate in the program is remarkable.”
The legislation operates under a rule applied in drug and DUI courts — those charged with murder, child molestation, and rape are ineligible for the mental health courts.