Colquitt County is one of nine areas of the state that will receive some of the $10 million which Gov. Nathan Deal has targeted for justice system reform. And here, it will likely go to help establish a mental/drug court.
John Zoller, accountability court coordinator with the Administrative Office of the Courts in Atlanta, met recently with the Healthy Colquitt Coalition’s mental health committee to discuss this approach and to outline what the committee would have to do to get this ball rolling.
The idea of an “accountability court’ has been discussed for several months as the mental health committee examines the community’s needs in this venue, following the closing of the mental health center here more than two years ago.
“We know that they (addicts) are not getting better in prison,” said Zoller.
Several weeks ago, the committee heard from Judge Steve Goss of Dougherty County who has administered an accountability court there for several years.
He said it takes about $250,000 a year to maintain that court in Dougherty. That does not include prescribed treatment as part of the adjudication process.
Goss said mental health issues and drug issues are often linked. Much of the time these problems mesh because of mental health patients trying to medicate themselves.
Accountability courts are not new, but data is just now becoming available to measure their effectiveness and to decide how best to organize and manage them. The whole idea of these courts is to treat the cases somewhat out of the regular criminal venue, but still to hold those brought before that court accountable for their actions while prescribing treatment.
Some communities just target one area like drugs or mental health. The local committee has decided that it will pursue a joint concept of mental health and drug courts.
On the closing of the mental health facility here, Zoller noted that it has not saved anyone any money.
“If you don’t believe it, ask the sheriff ... ask the hospital,” he said.
In Colquitt County, those people requiring mental health medications and counseling now have to seek them at centers in Thomasville or Pelham.
It was noted recently that Colquitt County was not contributing any local funds to the mental health center here which was run by the Georgia Pines agency via state funding. Those centers that did not close were those in communities that did share in the costs, said Lynn Wilson, co-chair of the committee.
In Thomas County, the community contributes about $43,000 annually to the center.
Ben Marion, director of Turning Point here in Moultrie and committee co-chair, said an announcement will be coming soon about an agreement between Colquitt Regional Medical Center, Turning Point and Georgia Pines to restore much of the mental health services to the community.
A mental /drug court here would deal with medium to high risks addicts in terms of the drug aspect of this concept. Long term programs, often lasting 18 months, would be set up for those subjected to this court.
Zoller said it is not perceived as an easy way out because of the criteria for completing the program. He said he’s seen instances where some people have opted to do straight jail time as opposed to this treatment. Whether this would even be an option locally will be addressed as the project develops.
The next step for the committee will be to form a core team which would include a judge, prosecutor, defense lawyers as well as probation and treatment personnel.
At this point, it is not known how funds will be divided among those jurisdictions picked to receive them.