Fulton County’s Experience
In 2017, I worked with Fulton County, Georgia (located in the north-central portion state of Georgia and the state’s most populous county with 1,066,710 residents), as a Project Manager for their Category 1 Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP), through the University of Georgia (UGA), Carl Vinson Institute of Government. At that time, the JMHCP supported innovative, cross-system collaboration for individuals with mental illnesses or co-occurring mental health conditions and substance use disorders who came into contact with the justice system. JMHCP grantees awarded Category 1 awards were tasked with planning and conducting comprehensive, data-driven analyses of their county criminal justice and behavioral health systems to identify strategies to safely reduce the prevalence of individuals with mental disorders in local jails. Fulton County Superior Court sought project management, meeting facilitation, data analysis, program evaluation, and technical assistance from UGA.
The work began on the first day of the Sequential Intercept Model Mapping Workshop (SIM), conducted by Policy Research Associates and facilitated by Patty Griffin and Travis Parker. The Fulton County Justice and Mental Health Task Force (FCJMHTF) was established; all task force members had attended the SIM. As the Project Manager, I used the recommendations and voted upon priorities from the SIM to organize our work groups and discussion topics. Bi-monthly, the taskforce would convene to ensure that the meetings helped complete the outlined objectives in the strategic action plan. To accomplish the work of the FCJMHTF, we took the five top priorities from the SIM and divided them into five committees/workgroups that met monthly for 9 months.
The five work groups (Improving Court Coordination, Data, Reentry, Pre-arrest Diversion, and Housing) shared information, outlined roles and responsibilities, identified key problems and weaknesses, and developed recommendations. Work groups assessed the system, developed implementation strategies, and built consensus on broad principles around the use of screening tools, information sharing, and shared resources. The primary workgroup deliverable was a framework that identified tracking metrics, current or needed policies, implementation processes, and system capacity. A public website was also created to serve as a repository for all project documents and meeting information.
Each organization that participated in the planning process was asked to bring their data to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. The Institute of Government used that data to produce a coherent and quantifiable picture of the prevalence rates and issues facing Fulton County and the judicial and mental health systems. The Institute of Government analyzed 5 years of data related to arrests, detention, adjudication, restoration, trial, sentencing, treatment, and incarceration related to persons with mental illness.
It took a multi-agency collaboration to divert persons with mental illnesses from jail.
- Fulton County Behavioral Health Treatment Court
- Fulton County Treatment Diversion Court
- Fulton County Adult Felony Drug Court
- Juvenile Court of Fulton County
- Magistrate Court of Fulton County
- State Court of Fulton County
- Superior Court of Fulton County
Legal and Justice Agencies
- Fulton County Conflict Defender’s Office
- Fulton County District Attorney’s Office
- Fulton County Office of the Public Defender
- Fulton County Pretrial Services
- Fulton County Solicitor General’s Office
- Fulton County Justice Reinvestment Initiative
- Fulton County Justice Coordinating Council
Fulton County Law Enforcement
- Fulton County Emergency Services 9-1-1
- Fulton County Police Department
- Fulton County Sheriff’s Office
- Fulton County Jail
- MARTA Police (public transportation)
City of Atlanta
- Atlanta City Detention Center
- Atlanta/Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative
- Atlanta Police Department
- Office of the Public Defender
- City of Atlanta Pretrial Services
- City of Atlanta Solicitor’s Office
- Atlanta 911 Communications Center
- Municipal Court of Atlanta
Fulton County Behavioral Health Providers
- Competency Restoration Program, Emory University School of Medicine/Fulton County Jail Collaborative
- Fulton County Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
- Georgia Crisis and Access Line
- Georgia Regional Hospital—Atlanta
- Grady Health System—Grady Memorial Hospital
- River Edge Behavioral Health
- View Point Health
Private Nonprofit Organizations
- Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, Central Atlanta Progress
- Behavioral Health Link
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Georgia
State of Georgia
- Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
- Georgia Department of Community Affairs
- Georgia Department of Community Supervision
The initiative’s key representatives were all pulled from relevant mental health agencies, law enforcement, and courts. They were tasked with developing a shared vision and road map for improving communication and processes and reducing potential policy and legal barriers, all to better address how individuals with mental illness were treated and adjudicated.
In the next blog, I will discuss the key components for success in bringing together a complex, fragmented, and diverse system.