Elizabeth McQueen, chief clinical officer with the Albany Area Service Board, says that while many times people wind up at the service board because of a court-mandated order, cooperation can result with some legal charges being diverted.
ALBANY, Ga. — According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, more than half of jail and prison inmates suffer some form of mental illness. In the face of such statistics, deliberate coordination between mental health professionals and local law enforcement could provide answers to some pressing social issues.
Leadership of the Albany Area Community Service Board at 601 West 11th Ave. took the matter in hand Wednesday with a luncheon for fire department and law enforcement personnel.
“The idea behind the luncheon is to increase the level of understanding all around,” said Elizabeth McQueen, chief clinical officer with the Service Board. “We want to be able to put names with faces, get to know one another and generate an increasing level of understanding.”
Some 50 members of the fire and law enforcement community received information packets providing an overview of the Service Board, as well as a verbal question-answer session and a tour of facilities.
The Community Service Board is a nonprofit organization providing mental health, developmental disability and addictive diseases services to Dougherty and seven nearby counties.
Roger Haggerty, safety and security officer with the Service Board, told luncheon guests he relied on the expertise of professionals.
“We want to be sure we know who to call,” Haggerty said. “We do a lot of our own in-house checks. We do fire drills, basic bomb and life-threat drills to make sure our staff and our consumers know how to act. When we share these drills with you, you’ll know if we’re acting right or wrong. We need to know.”
Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul seemed enthusiastic at the opportunity to learn more about mental health as it applies to law inforcement.
“Most of us who are department heads or CEOs don’t have much occasion to visit these types of facilities,” Sproul said. “It’s good for our lay people —those on the front lines of the fire, SWAT and police — to know when a crisis takes place what type of assistance is available and how best to handle the situation.”
According to Sproul, a large percentage of the inmates of the Dougherty County jail may have ended up there because they’ve slacked off on medications or taken the wrong kind.
“They end up in our jail at the taxpayers’ expense, sitting there for weeks or months,” Sproul said. “Thanks to the mental health court, we’re able to weed those people out, so to speak, and get them out of our facility. They don’t need to be there.”
Many people wind up at the Service Board for court-mandated treatment, McQueen said, or as form 1013 holdovers, allowing suspects or patients to be detained for further mental evaluation.
“We coordinate very closely with the courts to make certain those services are received,” McQueen said. “We work closely with judge (Stephen) Goss and the Mental Health Treatment Court. Sometimes that provides opportunities for consumers who have mental illness and legal involvement to have some of their charges diverted.”