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Slowing the revolving door: Report shows mental illness and drug programs reducing jail, psychiatric stays


Council accepts annual report on mental illness and drug dependency funding


The effort to treat those battling mental illness and drug dependence is being seen in the lives of the people who are living healthier, safer and more stable lives and staying out of jails and crisis services. The Metropolitan King County Council today accepted the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Fifth Annual Report, which includes information on the more than 30,000 people who received treatment in 2012 through programs supported by Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) funds.

“This report shows that the investment in our mental health and chemical dependency programs have paid dividends in the form of reduced jail time and psychiatric hospital stays,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, prime sponsor of the motion. “These smart investments save taxpayers money and are a compassionate response to those in need of help.”

“I am encouraged to see the impact on the number of people who are being helped by MIDD funds,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, chair of the Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “I believe offering services to people in need will enable them to make good choices and move on productively with their lives.”

“This report shows very clearly what can happen when people who need help are offered a space in a treatment facility rather than time in a jail cell,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett. “MIDD funding continues saving lives even as it looks towards the future.”

In 2005, the Washington state Legislature authorized counties to implement a one-tenth of one percent sales and use tax to support new or expanded chemical dependency or mental health treatment programs and services and for the operation of new or expanded therapeutic court programs and services.

King County became one of 19 counties in the state to take advantage of MIDD funding in 2007, using the tax revenue to fund a range of programs and services to prevent and reduce unnecessary involvement with criminal justice and emergency medical systems and promote recovery for persons with mental illness and chemical dependency.

“The programs and services funded by the MIDD tax have helped us to divert people who had been frequent users of jail cells and hospital beds into alternatives that are less expensive and more effective,” said Dan Satterberg, King County Prosecuting Attorney and co-chair of the MIDD Oversight Committee.

“King County took the necessary steps to implement the MIDD at a time when the economic downturn threatened to completely shred the established safety net,” said Mike Heinisch, Executive Director of Kent Youth and Family Services and co-chair of the MIDD Oversight Committee. “The individual recoveries facilitated by the MIDD strategies are of more value in regenerated and contributing human capital than the many dollars saved in unnecessary involvement in criminal justice and emergency systems, dollars which in and of themselves are considerable.”

The report shows significant success during the past year. Among the highlights of the report:

• Approximately 32,112 individuals (20,150 adults and 11,962 children/youth) were served, up from 30,704 served in 2011.
• Of the total served, 955 were current or former members of the U.S. military.
• Average days in jail were reduced in ten strategies aimed at reducing jail time, by as much as 56 percent.
• Average days in community inpatient psychiatric hospitals decreased by 48 percent for a sample of people in MIDD services.
• Of participants in mental health treatment, 884 of 1.044 – 85 percent – showed improvement in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
• School-based suicide prevention trainings reached 6,774 high school-aged youth and 1,355 middle school youth, in addition to training for adults on the warming signs for suicide.

Another highlight was the opening of the Crisis Solutions Center last summer in Seattle, operated by Downtown Emergency Services Center. The Solutions Center serves as a diversion site for local law enforcement and other first responders to provide an alternative to jail, when appropriate, for persons in crisis due to mental illness or substance use. The center provides assessment and stabilization services and linkages to community treatment.

“People with mental illnesses and chemical dependency are breaking the cycle of arrests and emergency room visits while gaining a clear path to recovery thanks to our investments in programs that make treatment possible,” said County Executive Dow Constantine.

While the original state legislation did not allow the one-tenth of one percent sales tax revenues to be used for existing programs, subsequent changes to the law by the State Legislature currently allow counties to use a portion of the funds to support existing mental health, substance abuse and therapeutic court services, making it possible to sustain programs through the recession.

For more information on the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency sales tax, contact Amnon Shoenfeld, Director, Mental Health, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services Division at 206-263-8902 or click here
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