By Harry Covert
A plan that could help end recidivism among drug addicts and the mentally ill was the focus of a recent one-and-a-half day program by leading Alexandria officials. The problem of citizens dealing with mental disorders and drug problems is an increasing presence in the criminal justice system, and the Alexandria Detention Center is no exception.
“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,” said Dr. Henry J. Steadman of Policy Research Associates.
Nationally, individuals with mental health and substance use disorders are an increasing presence within the criminal justice system. 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 people with a mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorder is critical to reduce an often repetitious cycle of justice involvement.
Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, Police Chief Earl Cook and the director of clinical and emergency services Liz Wixson, participated in the program, which was developed by Policy Research Associates of Delmar, New York. Other participants included: Mayor Bill Euille, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley, City Manager Jim Hartmann and Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel. The meeting was sponsored by the Virginia State Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.
Attendees identified existing community resources, service gaps and opportunities for improved service coordination and communication among mental health, substance abuse and criminal justice professionals. During the workshop, participants developed 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 the City of Alexandria. The group considered strategies employed by other localities across the country.