Did you know small counties drive most of the growing incarceration rates around the country?
Or that jail has become a desperate choice for numerous people suffering from mental illness?
August 25th Douglas County held a Jail Alternatives meeting where issues like mental health, incarceration rates, and harsh legal punishments lined the agenda board.
Often, it is easy to get so caught up in statistics to the point of forgetting that we are dealing with real people. But whether you’re a resident of Douglas county, a simple believer in justice and fairness, or neither of these things, I ask you to apply the Kevin Bacon theory- any two people on this earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. These issues are closer than you think and affect everyone.
Even though incarceration rates in the area are below the national and statewide average, Douglas County is dealing with a massive problem when it comes to the topic of its prisoners receiving the mental help they need. Currently, there is no system in place allowing prisoners access to therapy or the medications they were on before being incarcerated. Meaning many of those with serious mental health issues won’t receive the help they need for months, if at all.
In addition to adding a psychiatry unit to the prison, another topic discussed was the actual amount of citizens who are taken to jail. One suggested alternative to arresting everyone at the crime scene, was that low level crimes would receive a fine instead of ever being taken in. This would provide those sitting in cells for low level crimes with an alternative to posting bail, which is more often than not too expensive for offenders to afford.
After the meeting, which included a conference call to Senior Program Associate with the Center on Sentencing and Corrections, Elizabeth Swavola, several citizens stuck around discussing their personal issues with the existing system and providing deeply emotional stories detailing how mental illness has affected their own families.
The dedicated actions of these people are bringing the heart of the to light, which is those most affected by harsh punishments and caught up in the jail system. Hopefully the continued efforts of these individuals will see productive change to our community in the near future.