One prominent theme of IMPACT’s 2010 Listening Process was problems regarding the mental health of ourselves and people we knew. Lack of quality and affordable mental health services; lack of treatment facilities; lack of transitional and supportive housing. The list went on and on.
One of these stories came from a young woman named Lauren. In the house meeting she attended, she shared a story about her father. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and for a while was receiving medication and therapy, but then stopped. Because he stopped receiving treatment, during one psychotic episode, he set fire to Lauren’s childhood home, while her mother and sister were sleeping inside. Luckily, nobody was hurt. But now, Lauren’s father is in jail on charges of arson.
Lauren gave this testimony at our Annual Assembly, where 425 people from IMPACT’s congregations came to vote between the problems of homelessness, jobs, and mental health. Lauren’s testimony carried the vote and so we began our research into mental health care in the community.
Lauren then became one of the co-chairs of the research committee. We learned about a lot of gaps in services and treatment, and one thing that made our research committee very angry was that the jail is the largest provider of mental health services in the area. That really hit at our guts. We also learned that when ex-offenders with mental illness are released from incarceration, they receive at most 15-30 days of medication, but are not immediately re-eligible for benefits upon release.
So once that medication runs out, this vulnerable population often goes months without treatment. Their conditions destabilize and they often end up homeless, in the emergency room, or worse yet, back in jail. This made us think of what would happen to Lauren’s father once he is released from jail.
So then we started looking towards solutions, and we found that what was needed was a psychiatric re-entry program to ensure the continuity of care for ex-offenders with mental illness.
Then we went with our source of power, and at our 2011 Nehemiah Action brought 1,500 people to ask the City Councilors and County Supervisors to fund the Healthy Transitions Program. Healthy Transitions is a collaboration between the Probation & Parole office and Region Ten Community Service Board that provides vital assistance to fill that gap for people recently released from jail or prison. Rather than one-time help or a long waiting period, it provides immediate and on-going medication and therapy.
Because of the swelling of public support for this proposal, the officials present unanimously agreed.
However, despite these commitments, in February 2012, IMPACT learned that Healthy Transitions was not included in the Proposed Albemarle County Budget. It became clear that the County Board of Supervisors was not going to follow through on their own, and that the lives of hundreds of ex-offenders with mental illness were at stake. So IMPACT leaders decided to take action. 100 IMPACT leaders came to the County Budget Hearing to press the County Supervisors to follow through on their commitment. The following week, the Board unanimously approved to put Healthy Transitions back into the proposed budget. Then, at the Nehemiah Action in March, Charlottesville City and Albemarle County leaders renewed their commitment. Healthy Transitions is now fully funded and will service over 100 people this year.
UPDATE: Healthy Transitions Proves to Successful in First Year to Reduce Recidivism!
Data released in September 2012 is proving that Healthy Transitions is a good investment of our community dollars.
Our regional jail and prison system is the largest provider of mental health services in our area. Before Healthy Transitions was fully funded, an ex-offender with mental illness would face a 10-month service gap after their re-entry into the community. Now, they have a wait time of 22 days—a lifesaving difference for this vulnerable population.
Statewide, one-quarter of ex-offenders with mental illness return to jail. Because of Healthy Transitions, in the Region Ten area, the recidivism rate has been reduced to 10%.
In one year, this program has so far saved our community at least $170,000. That is why Healthy Transitions has been hailed statewide as a best practice.
YOUR presence at the Nehemiah Action and City and County Budget Hearings made Healthy Transitions a reality for our community!