Mental health diversion program helps inmates, still protects community

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. -  A jail diversion program in Madison County is treating mental disorders while still keeping the community safe. it's an effort that's also taking stress off of law enforcement officers tending to inmates awaiting trial.

Law enforcement, the courts and mental health experts are trying a new kind of pre-trial program for people suffering from mental health issues.

"It will allow individuals to get out of jail so that we can treat them, identify the needs that they have be it housing, filing for their disability," Tammy Leeth said. Leeth is the Diversion Program Manager with Wellstone Behavioral Health.

One of the program's goals is to reduce the amount of people who wind up behind bars, again.

"For many years the jails have been overcrowded with people who suffer from mental illness," Leeth said. "If it's medications that they need to be on, let's make sure that they get their medications."

For this effort, Wellstone Behavioral Health uses two case managers that work with clients from the jail.

"They both work mutually with them," Leeth said of the case managers. "As of now we have about 22, 23 that's on the case load. We look for it to grow to at least 50 daily. We have about 30 that is on the waiting list, reasons that they're on the waiting list is to ensure that they want to do this program."

It's important to note, these clients are not charged with violent crimes. It's charges for cashing worthless checks or trespassing. The case workers keep a close eye on the people in the program.

"Phone calls, visits, when they don't answer, we're going to your home," Leeth said.

Leeth said people know they need to abide by the rules when they're out of jail.

"If there are times where they're not answering the phone or they're not responding, immediately we notify the judge and say we need to do a warrant because we cannot find this person," Leeth explained.

When people are on this diversion program, they either live in Wellstone's facility or at the Downtown Rescue Mission. A small portion of them live with a loved one or on their own.

Wellstone said finding a place for the clients to stay is their biggest challenge. They are hoping to find a solution but it takes finances.

If you would like to donate, give Wellstone a call. Their number is 256-533-1970.

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