Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Action Plan
Individuals suffering from mental illnesses or drug and alcohol dependencies now fill our jails, courts and hospitals. On any given day, the King County Jail houses more mentally ill people than any other institution in the state after Western State Hospital. The criminalization of mental illness and the cycle of drug dependency are nationwide tragedies that deeply impact King County.
After hearing from hundreds of speakers over the past year who urged action, the King County Council on Nov. 13 enacted the one-tenth of one cent sales tax proposed by the County Executive to fund the strategies and programs outlined in King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Action Plan. The programs are designed to stabilize people suffering from mental illness and chemical dependency, diverting them from jails and emergency rooms by getting them proper treatment.
King County joins seven other counties in Washington state that have adopted the funding mechanism authorized by the Legislature in 2005 to fund new or expanded mental health and substance abuse treatment services and therapeutic courts. The sales tax could start locally as early as April 1, 2008, and would expire in just under nine years, on January 1, 2017. The measure will add one penny to a $10.00 purchase, and will generate approximately $54 million per year.
The programs and strategies funded by the Action Plan will create a full continuum of treatment, housing and case management services to promote recovery for persons with disabling mental illness or chemical dependency. Public safety is enhanced by reducing the motivation for common crimes such as car theft and ID theft and holding offenders accountable for their actions. These programs seek to prevent and reduce chronic homelessness and unnecessary involvement in the criminal justice and emergency medical systems by:
· Giving people in crisis a safe place to rest: creating a crisis diversion center where police, doctors and family can take individuals who are having a crisis, but aren’t breaking the law or are having a medical crisis.
· Keeping kids alive: providing suicide prevention grants to 19 school districts in King County to raise suicide awareness in kids, help schools develop policies, train teachers and educate parents.
· Expanding crisis outreach for children and youth: creating a reception center for children and youth to give parents, doctors and police an option other than jail or the hospital for kids undergoing a mental health or substance abuse event but who don’t need medical attention.
· Helping people return to communities as they leave jail or the hospital: assisting the mentally ill or chemically dependent to transition out of a facility, finding them a treatment provider, helping them get their medicine, and helping them find a place to live.
· Training police to help people who are having a mental health or substance abuse related crisis: providing crisis intervention training for police and other first responders to help them keep an event from escalating to the point where someone is injured or jailed.
The Council’s Operating Budget Committee added a policy framework to the Executive’s proposed legislation to provide increased accountability for the new revenues, by requiring a three-part oversight, implementation, and evaluation plan:
· An oversight group to provide ongoing oversight of the Action Plan, with representation from other county, state and community agencies and entities involved in the mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault, homeless, justice, public health and hospital systems. The oversight plan shall be submitted to the County Council by April 1, 2008.
· An implementation plan to be developed in collaboration with the oversight group and delivered to the Council by June 1, 2008.
· An evaluation plan that includes performance measurements and data collection for reporting and evaluations, to be submitted to the Council by August 1, 2008.
Public health and mental health care were consistently cited as top priorities by participants in the Council’s extensive Citizen Engagement initiative earlier this year. When asked about public health in forums held to determine the public’s priorities for the King County budget, a majority singled out drug and substance abuse treatment as a top priority for funding, with mental health care a strongly voiced and recurring concern.
A standing room audience of more than 400 spoke with one voice at the Council’s June 25 Town Hall in Shoreline, as speaker after speaker called on Councilmembers to support funding for treatment for mental health and chemical dependency. Jail administrators, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, client advocates and hospital officials have joined at public meetings to advocate for the Action Plan.
More than 600 people attended four public hearings over the past two weeks on the 2008 King County Budget, with many testifying in support of funding for the Action Plan. More than 35 appeared at the final Council public hearing today to voice unanimous support for the funding.
The Action Plan is the result of a systematic, year-long process that involved the County, mental health and substance abuse experts, service providers and the justice system to integrate existing services and resources, make changes in the processing of criminal cases, and develop appropriate service and housing options.
The 7 other counties to have enacted the one-tenth of one cent sales tax authorized by the Legislature are Spokane, Skagit, Island, Clark, Clallam, Jefferson and Okanogan counties.