Joseph Coletti’s latest John Locke Foundation Spotlight paper on jail diversion programs in thirty seconds:
Sheriffs could provide some impetus for county governments to take a more active role in rebuilding the state’s mental health safety net. If done right, jail diversion programs can improve public and officer safety, provide care for those with chronic mental illness, and save taxpayers money. Doing it right depends on a strong system of community-based care, which means more county involvement and less reliance on Medicaid. Intervening earlier saves more money and has greater potential to help the person with an illness.
You also will learn that the most seriously ill are getting less care than they did before the "reform."
The person ultimately responsible for managing this initiative -- Gov. Mike Easley -- now says his administration opposed the 2001 changes enacted by the legislature. Yet there is little proof that anyone representing Easley opposed the changes.
Easley has tried to distance himself from the issue. He clearly doesn't want to engage. But he doesn't have a choice. There's too much at stake -- in taxpayer money and human cost.
Simply put, Easley needs to lead.
One burden of leadership: Sometimes you have to deal with issues you'd rather ignore. Some issues are popular with voters. This is not one of them. No one gets elected governor saying he will deliver good care to the mentally ill at a reasonable price to taxpayers.
In a December news conference, Easley said the state was merely the banker, supplying the money for companies to provide services to the mentally ill.
Easley is wrong. His administration set the rules for the new program. It set the reimbursement rates. It had the responsibility to set and enforce standards.
I'd like to be able to tell you Easley's further thoughts on the subject. But he declined repeated attempts by The N&O's Pat Stith to discuss it.
Stith, one of the best investigative reporters in the country, has studied the state's mental health system for six months. Few people understand it as well. That might make Easley nervous.
The governor couldn't make the time to talk with Stith. But he did find the time recently to appear on the public TV show, "The Woodwright's Shop."
Easley and host Roy Underhill worked on a walnut table together. It's good -- I guess -- that we have a well-adjusted governor who enjoys his free time so much.
But there are 10 months left in his last term. There are plenty of projects on the state's workbench.
Easley has appointed Dempsey Benton, Raleigh's former city manager, to lead the state agency in charge of mental health.
Benton is an old pro -- a skilled, capable public manager, although he has little experience in delivering social services.
But Benton is digging in. Easley should too. As chief executive, he should be able to ask Benton hard questions about what the goals are, how the state is going to meet the goals and how it's going to measure success.
Anyone who works with wood knows you measure twice and cut once. When it comes to mental health reform, Easley missed on the first cut.
We'll see if he has the skill -- and the will -- to get it right on the second cut.
, Executive Editor
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