Madison County Commission opens discussion about jail diversion for the mentally ill

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. –"What we are doing today and just being here just means a lot to the community and us", Mother Jacqueline O'Neil said.

O'Neil has a 21 year old son that suffers from a mental illness and he's currently behind bars.

"I think the problem was when he was 14. In the state of Alabama if you're 14 you can actually choose to make the decision not to get any mental health treatment. So of course every time you have to call law enforcement to seek treatment and that creates a record," O'Neil said.

She knows her son isn't getting the treatment he needs in prison and is happy the Madison County Commission has opened the conversation up for jail diversion for the mentally ill.

The commission brought in mental health expert Leon Evans Tuesday; to give a presentation on a system they use in Texas.

"They use to say 16 to 30 percent of people behind bars have a mental illness, but there's been a lot of research, and it says the number of people in prison with mental illness is much higher than that", Evans said.

In the presentation were other mental health specialists, public officials, judges, and officers. The presentation along was a change for the conversation to open.

"Mental health is a public health issue not a criminal justice issue," Commissioner Bob Harrison said.

Harrison said we have a lot of resources in the state, but the one thing that's missing is organization. He said the state should be training officers on mentally ill patients and have an alternative place to take the mentally ill beside jail.

O'Neil knows it's going to be a long road for change to happen, but she's thrilled people are talking about making changes.