Fulton County Justice and Mental Health Task Force
Each year, an estimated two million people with serious mental illnesses are admitted to jails across the nation. Almost three-quarters of these adults also have drug and alcohol use problems. Once incarcerated, individuals with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and, upon release, are at higher risk of returning to incarceration than those without these illnesses.
The task force includes local and state partners from the judiciary, law enforcement, community corrections, consumers, advocates, mental health and substance abuse service providers, and other stakeholders. The task force is responsible for creating data-driven action plans and recommendations that improve the use of public safety and behavioral health resources to maximize impact and measurably improve outcomes for people with mental illness involved in the justice system. The systems-level reform recommendations target increased opportunities for treatment, a reduction in the number of people booked into jail with mental illness, new validated mental health screening tools, and fewer days in jail for those persons requiring treatment.
In 2016, former Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner adopted the Stepping Up Resolution. This initiative was mirrored after the national Stepping Up initiative – a data-driven framework that assists counties across the U.S. through training, resources, and support tailored to local needs.
To support and expand the initiative, the Superior Court of Fulton County began convening the Fulton County Justice and Mental Health Task Force.
In 2018, the Superior Court of Fulton County applied for and was awarded a Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA)/JMHCP Category Three grant. Grant funds are supporting a dedicated Stepping Up engagement team, whose goal is to build further capacity of the Fulton County Justice and Mental Health Task Force. This includes positioning the collaborative group to be more data-driven and establishing key needed resources. Grant-funded activities also include analysis of every jail booking to identify “familiar faces.” With assistance from a data collection and evaluation partner, the team is conducting analysis across data silos to identify people who frequently go between the justice system, emergency health, forensic, housing, and social service systems. If identified, the team works with community partners to ensure these individuals are triaged and linked to treatment and services.
To support these systems-wide Stepping Up goals, the Superior Court of Fulton County applied for and was awarded a $250,000 planning grant in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. Through grant funding support, Superior Court convened the Fulton County Justice and Mental Health Task Force and developed a systems-level, data-driven action plan.
During the planning phase, the task force organized into five workgroups that met monthly to move the project forward. Workgroups were based on community priorities established in the Sequential Intercept Mapping workshop. Workgroups were responsible to assess the current system, build consensus around opportunities for reform, gather data , and develop formal recommendations. Recommendations were then prioritized, and business cases developed from the top four priorities.
The Carl Vinson Institute of Government provided technical assistance to Fulton County Superior Court and its partners to help document how individuals with mental disorders move through the local justice system, collect system-wide data, and meeting coordination and facilitation. The Policy Research Associates provided technical assistance through a two-day Sequential Intercept Mapping Workshop on April 25-26, 2017. The Council for State Governments Justice Center provides technical support through links to national resources, monthly calls, and expert recommendations to ensure the project was a success.
Jail Screening and Reentry Unit
- Establish a Screening and Reentry Unit within the jail
- Screen 100% of eligible bookings for mental illness
- Begin reentry at booking for identified individuals
- Administer psychotropic medication within 48 hours
- Create a shared client data repository connecting criminal justice and behavioral health entities
- Identify "shared clients"
- Facilitate connections with community treatment providers
- Monitor and analyze system performance
- Hire coordinator to ensure training goals are met, coordinate training schedules, and deliver Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety training
- Increase the number of trained officers responding to 911 calls
- Ensure 100% of new hires receive Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety and Trauma-Informed Responses training within 6 months of hire
- Ensure 50% of law enforcement and jail officers and 100% of 911 operators/dispatchers have CIT training within 4 years
- Open the Community Center for Diversion and Recovery to serve as a drop-off point for law enforcement and provide mental health treatment services using the existing Atlanta/Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative protocols
- Continue funding the Misdemeanor Mental Health Court, which provides treatment and supervision for people charged with eligible misdemeanor crimes
- Divert eligible individuals post-arrest whose crimes are related to their mental illness to treatment and court supervision
Fulton County Board of Commissioners financially sponsored implementation of four business cases that include a screening and reentry team, data, training, and diversion.
In 2018, Fulton County Superior Court applied for and was awarded a BJA/JMHCP Category Three grant. Grant funds are supporting a dedicated Stepping Up Engagement team, whose goal is to build further capacity of the Fulton County Justice and Mental Health Task Force. This includes positioning the collaborative group to be more data-driven, particularly related to jail mental health screenings and follow-up care, and developing a data-sharing platform to be used across justice, health, housing, and social service systems. Grant-funded activities also surround analysis of every jail booking to identify “frequent utilizers.” With assistance from a data collection and evaluation partner, the team is conducting analysis across data silos to identify people who frequently go between the justice system, emergency health, forensic, and social service systems. If identified, the team will ensure that these individuals are triaged by the jail medical providers to address SMI/CMISA and any need for opioid overdose reversal drugs or recovery supports, and linked to treatment and services. The team will meet regularly to strengthen the local provider infrastructure and prioritize treatment to reduce arrests, reduce jail length of stays, improve connections to care and reduce recidivism.