County backs jail alternative funding

BY KATIE HEINE | APRIL 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Johnson County Board of Supervisors says it is committed to funding the county's jail-alternative program if the state decides to cut more than $2 million to the Mental Health and Disability Services Department.

On Wednesday, supervisors said they would allocate county funds to keep the program, which provides mentally ill people with medical care instead of incarceration, running through fiscal 2012.

"No one wants to not provide this service," said Supervisor Pat Harney.

The jail-alternative program was established under the Mental Health Department in 2005, said Jessica Peckover, a team leader for the program.

The department funds the jail-alternative program, which costs around $170,000 each year, she said. Around 200 people benefit from the program annually, she said.

"Going to jail is a destabilizing event," said Peckover, and the program's goal is to maintain clients' stability.

Clients' mental-health symptoms can increase when incarcerated, she said. Being in jail also disrupts their benefits, such as Medicaid, which provides many with the funds needed for medication, Peckover said.

Eliminating the jail-alternative program was one consideration when county officials heard the state may cut more than $2 million from its budget.

But officials said they understand the importance of the program, and they will do what they can to keep it in place — even if that means the supervisors dip into their reserves to fund for the program.
For now, though, much of the funding discussion is speculative.

"We're waiting for the state, then we'll go from there," said Harney, who said he thinks the state will complete its budget in the next month.

Though county mental-health officials are uncertain about long-term funding for the program, Peckover said they were pleased with the supervisors' decision to allocate funding for the short-term.

Around eight people affiliated with the Iowa Department of Corrections attended the meeting to show support for the program, Peckover said.

"Jail alternative is seen as a benefit and an asset in our community," she said.

While the program is "set up to serve more than just probationers and parolees," the program is very helpful to the Department of Correction's clients, said Bob Anderson, probation and parole supervisor in Johnson County.

"We certainly support that program," he said. "We have people that will end up in jail a lot of times for reasons that are related to their mental illness."

Some of those reasons include being off of medication, being unable to afford medication, or being homeless, he said. The county's program helps address all of those issues, he said.

"We would have hated to see [the county] not fund it," Anderson said.

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