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Georgia's mental health problem
Plus: Where President Biden will look for the next SCOTUS justice
In a rare move, the long-serving Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston introduced his own legislation to rebuild the state’s failing mental health system. The bill, HB 1013, has bipartisan support, and is based on recommendations made by a task force that looked at the issue in 2019.
Whether you agree or disagree with the specific recommendations and approach recommended by the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission, I hope you applaud the reasoning behind the effort. Though I don’t agree with Ralston on many things, I think he’s done a great service to Georgia in bringing light (and money!) to this important issue.
Georgia’s mental health care system is antiquated, underfunded, overwhelmed and, according to a Capitol Beat News Service story, ranked 48th in the nation for access to mental health and substance abuse services. Meanwhile, Georgia “enjoys” a prison population of around 50,000, up 12 percent since 2000 (based on 2018 numbers from the Vera Institute). That puts the state in the top five for jail admissions, prison admissions, pretrial population, sentenced population and prison population by rate. The majority of this population is Black, making it a racial issue also. (Excuse the “Latinx” heading in the chart below from Vera. Obviously they are cut from very liberal cloth.)
In 2021 statistics published by World Population Review, Georgia ranks no. 4 in the U.S. for highest prison population, at 54,113, and in rates per 100,000 people, the state is ranked no. 8 at 500, above Florida, but below Louisiana and Mississippi.
But most telling is that Georgia has the highest probation population in the country. The Atlanta Journal Constitution published a story about it this week.
Since June 2018, Georgia felons under state supervision have been linked to more than 3,500 cases of violent crime. The cases include roughly 680 homicides, 670 sexual criminal acts, 285 robberies and 1,870 other serious violent felonies, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of the state Department of Community Supervision’s internal tracking system.
There are 190,475 people on felony probation, with another 19,771 on parole as of last year, according to the article. Department of Community Supervision Commissioner Michael Nail told a state Senate committee that mental health was one area where his department could use a boost, as “the last point in the system” probation gets every case.
“Suddenly, they come our way, and they’re wanting us to fix them miraculously...,” Nail said. “What I think is totally unfair is to hold out a case without looking at the big picture. And without looking at the totality of what you’re up against.”
Nail told the Senate committee that it’s difficult for probation officers to find mental health and addiction resources to serve those under supervision, including those who leave prison with just a 30-day supply of medications.
There is broad agreement among experts that improving access to mental health and substance abuse programs cuts the number of people committing crimes and making the revolving door spin in jails, prisons, and probation cases.
Looking at the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission’s presentation from 2019, just a tiny fraction of those potentially in need of state hospital mental health resources actually get them.
The Capitol Beat story also touched on the effects of COVID-19 in the ballooning need for mental health assistance.
Georgia’s mental health crisis hotline has experienced a 24% increase in calls, texts and chats since the pandemic began, while mental health screenings have soared by 426%, Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, told members of a House committee last month.
In 2021, the legislature voted to up the mental health budget by $56 million. Ralston’s HB 1013 would require private insurers to live up to federal laws requiring parity of access to mental health. But the state faces a major shortage of supply, with 77 of 159 Georgia counties having no psychiatrists working fulltime, and 76 without even a licensed psychologist, according to a WSB-TV story published today.
I realize that racial issues, civil liberty issues, crime, and health issues with the pandemic are important to many Georgians. Beneath many of our surface problems that plague us, mental health is part of the root. Having one of the worst mental health systems in the nation puts Georgia at a major disadvantage in dealing with its crime and incarceration problems.
It’s good politics for Ralston and Gov. Brian Kemp to focus on this. But it’s actually very good government, which is more important than politics.
Speculating on Biden’s SCOTUS pick
Vegas odds makers peg the Senate confirming the next SCOTUS nominee before the end of 2022 at 92 percent. The subhead under the top story in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution noted that Democrats must work fast if they want the Court to not get “more conservative.” I laughed at that one, because it assumes the court getting more conservative is an objectively bad thing, in news-speak. Or perhaps they just smuggled a Democrat talking point into a news story, which is an unthinking reflex in many newspapers these days.
The Vegas shortlist of candidates is thus:
CNN likes the odds of DC Circuit Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and South Carolina US District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs.
Jackson opened as the favorite on PredictIt’s newly launched market regarding the next SCOTUS nominee at 59 cents. Childs is next at 17 cents and Kruger third at 14 cents.
Leondra Kruger and Kentaji Brown Jackson are found on the Demand Justice Supreme Court shortlist, which is the liberal wing’s answer to the Federalist Society. J. Michelle Childs is not on their list. The New York Times seems to like Childs, who was recommended by South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn. There has also been speculation that Vice President Kamala Harris would be in the running. That would be a good way to make the Court hated even more than it is now.
Kruger and Jackson are eminently qualified to serve on SCOTUS, based on their impressive résumés. Both of them are Harvard alumni, with Kruger getting her J.D. at Yale, and Jackson at Harvard Law. Kruger clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens before working her way up to the Supreme Court of California. Jackson clerked for Breyer himself, and now serves as the U.S. District Court judge for the District of Columbia.
Childs, on the other hand, lacks most of those accolades, but fills one key checkbox: she’s a Black woman with political connections.
Those who bet money seem to like Jackson. I wonder if Joe Biden is a betting man?
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