Atlanta, GA – Today, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) is excited to announce the release of a first-of-its-kind study in Georgia that estimates the prevalence of mental illness among county jail inmates. The Statistical Analysis Center, a division of CJCC, in partnership with Applied Research Services worked with nine county jails throughout the state to estimate the prevalence of mental illness among persons booked into jail. Georgia has 142 county jails. The nine jails in the current study are in counties that cover 30% of Georgia's population. The active population for the nine study jails represented 25% of the total active jail population at the end of the study period. The study covered calendar years 2013-2018 and included over 600,000 booking episode records for over 360,000 people.
Booking episode records were matched to computerized criminal history, community supervision, and corrections data. The latter two datasets were used to identify people who may have mental illness. Seventy-one percent of the person records in the original dataset matched computerized criminal history. The resulting prevalence rate is a conservative estimate of the percentage of booking episodes involving someone with mental illness. Because the estimate relies on datasets for which a person has to have a felony arrest and conviction history, these figures likely understate the prevalence of booking episodes involving a person with mental illness. Almost half of all persons booked in our dataset do not have a felony arrest and conviction history. These persons were involved in almost 40% of the booking episodes. We estimate that 14% of booking episodes involve a person with mental illness. People with mental illness are represented in county jail populations at twice the rate that they are in the general population. Nine percent of people booked into county jails during the study period had mental illness - over 17,000 people in the state.
Executive Director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, Terry Norris said “Our sheriffs appreciate this important report from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the Georgia Statistical Analysis Center and Applied Research Services highlighting mentally impaired persons detained in selected county jails. This initial review of certain jail inmate populations seemingly validates the sheriffs’ long-standing position that county jails have become de facto mental health institutions in our state and throughout the nation. With nearly 35,000 inmates housed in 142 county jails, our sheriffs’ offices see firsthand the devastating impact of mental illness and its impact on families, law enforcement and the judicial system. This important first step in reviewing and analyzing available jail inmate data supports the call for greater community intervention and treatment for those in crisis."
The CJCC/ARS study finds that people with mental illness are a disproportionate burden on the county jail system. They stay in jail for twice as long as those without identified mental illness (54 days on average). They are in the community for 29 fewer days on average between one booking episode and the next. While they are in jail, they are moved around twice as much as those without mental illness - presenting a behavioral risk to themselves and others. People with mental illness were 1.5 times more likely than those without to be booked within the same year and have more than one booking episode during the five-year study period. Overall, the intersection between mental illness and criminal justice presents unique challenges to the people involved - both on the system and arrestee side. Our study is an initial attempt to estimate the magnitude of the impact that people with mental illness have on local jails and the factors in county jail data that illuminate whether someone may have mental illness. Getting a sense of the number of people who have mental illness in local jails is the first step toward making a plan to better serve them in the community, so they receive treatment responsive to their illness and exit the “revolving jail door."
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman says, “This mental health study seeks to ask and answer exactly the right questions if we are to make a difference in the touch points of mental health and the criminal justice system. I am grateful to the researchers and proud to be a small part of the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, who were instrumental in the compilation of this information. Data sets such as this are helping guide our trajectory within our Co-Responder teams here at the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. It is imperative we (in law enforcement) continue to look for safe ways to direct mental health needs out of the criminal justice system.”
About the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC)
Created by the Georgia General Assembly in 1981 as an Executive Branch agency, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) represents the culmination of many efforts to establish a statewide body that would build consensus and unity among the State's diverse and interdependent, criminal justice system components. For more information visit the CJCC website: https://cjcc.georgia.gov/.
Dannielle Lewis – Communications Director