Northeast Delta Human Services Authority (NE Delta HSA), which directs the
operation of community-based services for citizens with mental health issues, addictive disorders, developmental disabilities and prevention programs, is sponsoring a public symposium, in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness - Ruston Chapter (NAMI Ruston), on Tuesday, May 2 at the Ruston Civic Center.
At the Law Enforcement Mental Health Symposium: Alternatives to the Prison Pipeline, speakers will lead discussions around correlations between serious mental health issues and incarceration, and the event will encourage collaborative discussions to explore how societal health determinants, like access to healthcare, education, housing, community services for youth, and other supports, can improve regional mental health and primary health outcomes, even within challenging societal environments.
2014 Census data shows that almost one in five Louisiana residents live in poverty, at 19.8%, the third-highest rate in the country. A Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force was commissioned by the Louisiana State Legislature when it adopted House Concurrent Resolution 82. This task force published a report recently that showed one in three incarcerated people in Louisiana return to prison within three years of release. Additionally, the report cited that Louisiana sends people to prison for drug, property and other nonviolent offenses at twice the rate of South Carolina and three times the rate of Florida, even with nearly identical crime rates. This makes Louisiana's incarceration rate the highest in the U.S. The report also said that among those sentenced directly to prison rather than probation, the top 10 crimes were all nonviolent, with drug possession as the most common offense. More than half the people sent to prison in 2015 failed on probation or parole by violating supervision conditions or engaging in new criminal activity.
"We seek continued dialogue to reduce these real-life, destabilizing issues, such as poverty and the high rate of incarceration, that contribute to serious mental health issues and addictive disorders," said Dr. Monteic A. Sizer, NE Delta HSA Executive Director. "There is a negative ripple effect within the family, to the community and to larger public systems when our citizens live in an environment that prevents them from realizing a productive life. This Symposium brings together experts to spark positive ideas and action."
The Symposium will feature solution-based topics and discussions, including:
- How access to behavioral health services helps regional citizens reclaim their lives
- Educational, employment, housing and community resources
- Youth-focused community services as deterrents to incarceration in vulnerable communities
- Advocacy and scholarly perspectives: What we know and what comes next.
"By discussing alternatives to the prison pipeline, we want to help prevent citizens from entering the criminal justice system. At this symposium, we also want to offer practical actions and solutions to citizens who have been incarcerated, so they can become productive members of society again," said Dr. Jerrilene Washington, NAMI Ruston Chapter President.
"There is a lack of services available to people who are being released from jails and prisons," said Dr. Sizer. "Treatment coordination, planning and follow-up with existing community supports upon a citizen's release from jail or prison will offer a greater opportunity for a productive re-entry into the community and will lessen the chance of recidivism."
"Working together, we can find ways to hold larger public systems accountable for positive health outcomes. In addition to system change, people in communities have a responsibility to positively change certain behaviors, too," said Dr. Sizer. "It is incumbent upon all of us to put an infrastructure in place to help solve these issues. The costs to society from a moral, financial and health perspective are too important to ignore. We must all take action and responsibility for our individual and collective behavior, and also find common solutions that will make our lives and communities more productive and healthy."
Continuing education units for 3.00 contact hours will be available for social workers, counselors and addiction personnel. Refreshments are provided by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the Zeta Phi Omega Chapter in Monroe, Louisiana, and Epsilon Psi Omega Chapter in Grambling, Louisiana.
Click here to register for the Symposium on the NE Delta HSA website and to find more information about the event.