March 8, 2023 | News

1st look at Richmond County mental health initiative report

Writer: William Rioux

Published March 8, 2023

We’re getting a first look at a report for a mental health initiative in Richmond County.

Local leaders joined a national program that looks into ways to keep people suffering from mental health issues out of jail.

District 1 Commissioner Jordan Johnson is spearheading this initiative and has been since the city of Augusta passed a resolution in 2021 to become a Stepping Up city.

Johnson has seen mental health impact his family and says he wants everyone to have access to mental health resources in Richmond County. It’s a coordinated effort.

“Each branch of our government and our nonprofit sectors came together to figure out how we can make services more accessible to people,” he said.

To help solve a problem impacting thousands of families in Richmond County.

“Mental health has been an issue that not only affects our homeless population but our population at large,” he said.

In 2021, Johnson pushed Augusta to become a Stepping Up city. The Stepping Up Initiative is a national organization to help reduce the number of people going to jail that suffer from mental health issues.

“I think that the issue has been that there’s not been an effort to holistically address mental health in our communities,” he said.

This newly released report is called a Sequential Intercept Map. It’s completed by the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which works with local law enforcement, hospitals, jails, and courts, to show how behavioral health needs in the community clash with the criminal justice system.

This is a look at Richmond County’s map.

The report shows gaps in resources in Richmond County while explaining how that gap can be filled. The top priorities in the report: getting two more clinicians and creating inpatient psychiatric treatment because local hospitals don’t have that.

“Folks need help. Not a jail cell,” he said.

The report lists the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office as having only 48 of their 546 deputies trained for crisis intervention.

“I think there’s a number of opportunities that we can tap into outside the general budget. Grant funds by way of our federal government and our state government,” he said.

Johnson says the goal is to create a task force that can help address the growing concern about mental health in the county.

“When we’re talking about building Augusta, we can’t leave behind the people who can’t speak for themselves, and I hope this effort will speak to that,” said Johnson.

Much like the Homelessness Taskforce, the Mental Health Task Force will work the same way. Another focus of this report was to give people citations and tickets instead of arresting them.

If arrested, they want extensive mental health screenings in place at the jail.