At last month’s Health Committee meeting, we accepted funding for three programs that address mental health needs in our community.
Syracuse Behavioral Health operates a home for homeless women known as the Harriet May Mills House. Recently, they received a cut in funding and were facing a budget shortfall of approximately $130,000. They contacted the county and the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and were able to receive grant funding in the amount of $190,966.This program has been in our community since 1969. It is one of the few programs working with homeless women. It was important that we continue to offer this service to women in need.
The New York State Office of Mental Health awarded Onondaga County $50,000 for a multidisciplinary forensic team. Forensic mental health is one of the fastest growing areas of specialization in mental health and criminal justice. More municipalities are recognizing the expanding demand for programs and services that address incarcerated or recently released offenders with mental health needs. Forensic is an all-encompassing term for anyone with justice system involvement, whether they are incarcerated or on probation. Onondaga County will use this funding to develop plans to ensure a smooth transition from incarceration to release for offenders with a history of mental health. Some aspects of the transition include ensuring they have medications or have set up doctors’ appointments, if necessary, ensuring there isn’t a lapse in their health insurance and helping individuals to find housing and employment. Every situation will be slightly different. This funding helps develop a model that will work with each individual to ensure their success upon release.
The New York State Office of Mental Health also awarded Onondaga County a grant for $132,000 to implement the Forensic Enhanced Transition Program. This funding will allow a staff person to help with the transition. It is advantageous to focus on this population of people. The costs to incarcerate are exorbitant, and many that end up in the system are dealing with mental health issues. If we address their mental health and work to stabilize these individuals, the likelihood that they will become repeat offenders is reduced. For some, it can be as simple as ensuring they are taking prescribed medications. It is also very difficult to find gainful employment with a conviction; however, having stable employment and income is critical to keep them from getting into trouble again. Last year, incarceration at Jamesville Penitentiary, the Justice Center and Hillbrook Detention Facility cost Onondaga County taxpayers $62 million. It just makes sense to address the mental health needs that these offenders may have so that we can reduce the number of individuals that we incarcerate.
Tim Burtis represents the third legislative district, which includes the town of Cicero and portions of the town of Manlius. Tim welcomes constituent feedback; he can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 396-3300.