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Study to assess Forsyth County mental health services

FORSYTH COUNTY — Forsyth County is taking a look at a new program that would aim to keep residents with mental health issues out of the criminal justice system.

During a recent work session, the county commission approved a partnership with the state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The county will pay the council $48,000 for a mapping study and needs assessment of county services. The vote was 5-0 in favor.

“The idea is to get a sense of what services exist in the county for mental health for the community,” said presenter Virgilio Perez Pascoe. “There is a focus in the entire state of Georgia … to bring to the county’s most of the services that were provided either regionally or at the local level.

“We also want to focus on the needs of persons with mental illness community here in Forsyth County.”

Stefanie Lopez-Howard, who works for the council, said the study would involve not only interviews and surveys with numerous people within the criminal justice system, but also with families of those with mental health issues who have dealt with the system.

“Then also trying to get some time with families and talk to them about what their experience was, what prompted them to call 911, to call for law enforcement and do they feel like they have other resources in the community, and if they interacted with law enforcement, what was that like,” she said.

According to Lopez-Howard, the study will also take into account the cost of keeping those with mental health issues in jail and helping local law enforcement become better equipped to deal with those instances.

“We hear repeatedly when we’ve gone out into different communities throughout the state that jails are now the No. 1 mental health care provider in the state and they’re overburdened and overwhelmed,” she said. “They’re doing something they were never really designed to do.”