Wilson County to tackle mental illness, substance abuse in community, jail

Members of DrugFree Wilco will be participating in a two-day December meeting to address helping those who suffer from both mental illness and substance use disorders.

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Wilson County will be participating in a 1 ½ day workshop Dec. 18-19 for the development of integrated strategies to effectively identify and respond to the needs of justice-involved adults with both mental and substance use disorders.

Sequential Intercept Mapping and Taking Action for Change, developed by Policy Research Associates in Delmar, New York are two workshops designed to help communities identify existing community resources, service gaps, and opportunities for improved service coordination and communication between mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice professionals.

According to Dr. Henry J. Steadman of Policy Research Associates, “This workshop is a strategic planning session intended to foster systemic change and provide each participating community with the tools necessary to move forward to enhance services for adults with mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders in contact with the justice system.”

Key agency administrators, staff, and consumer advocates from the mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice system in Wilson County as well as DrugFree WilCo coalition members will be participating in Sequential Intercept Mapping and Taking Action for Change, which focus strategic planning efforts on cross-systems collaboration and the reduction of system and service barriers with an integrated, local action plan.

In preparation for the workshop, a county planning committee held a conference call with the facilitators on Thursday to discuss current practices and potential barriers to systems change. The committee consists of Michael Ayalon, CEO of Greek University, and Susan Shaw, Wilson County project administrator.

During the workshop, participants will develop a map detailing the flow of criminal justice contact from arrest to incarceration, referral and access to services, and points for diversion from the justice system across Wilson County. Strategies for systems change implemented by other US communities will be considered.

Nationally, individuals with both mental health and substance use disorders are an increasing presence within the criminal justice system. Studies have shown that 14.5% of men and 31% of women entering U.S. jails have a severe and persistent mental illness, compared to less than 6% of the general population. Of these individuals, 72% also have a substance use disorder. This problem is especially pronounced in rural communities, where the availability, accessibility, and acceptability of behavioral health services prevent many from receiving the help that they need. With more than 650,000 individuals returning to communities each year from U.S. prisons and seven million individuals returning from jails, effective linkage and access to community services for these people is critical to reduce an often repetitious cycle of justice involvement.

For more information on Wilson County’s Action Plan contact Michael Ayalon at 516-642-3108 or visit the DrugFree WilCo website for Wilson County resources at www.drugfreewilco.org. Information on the workshop is available at www.prainc.com

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