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Grant for Hall County accountability courts could be ‘missing piece’ to help people stay out of jail and get back on their feet
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Angel Mays, a Hall County Family Treatment Court graduate, speaks to attendees of a WomenSource Power Lunch in Gainesville, on Oct. 26, 2017. The luncheon featured panelists who are experts in accountability courts and individuals they have helped. - photo by David Barnes

When a person walks out of the jail with their freedom, the next steps are critical to make sure they don’t get locked up again, said Hall County Treatment Services Director Jessi Emmett. 

For the past two decades, Hall County has developed a slew of accountability court programs, which try to find ways outside of incarceration to help people charged with crimes to get rehabilitative help. 

Emmett, who runs the accountability court programs, said they are closing in on that missing piece, which is trying to provide stability in that transition from jail to a new life. 

“Sometimes they just kind of end up going right back in, or if they don’t have somewhere stable to go once they are released, they are kind of in limbo,” Emmett said. “From our perspective with the accountability courts, sometimes folks might leave town or they relapse quickly and end up going back into custody. We’re trying to mitigate all of that as much as we can.” 

For people incarcerated who join the accountability court programs, the staff at Hall County Treatment Services go to the jail weekly to do clinical assessments on mental health and substance use. Accountability court programs include Drug Court, DUI Court, a mental health court known as Health Empowerment Linkage and Possibilities Court and a Veterans Court. 

If the person discloses mental health issues, the jail helps to get that person in front of the psychiatric staff for any further evaluation or possible medication, Emmett said. 

Emmett spoke at the Monday, Oct. 19, Hall County Board of Commissioners work session about a $28,310 grant application that would provide additional services on substance use and mental health to incarcerated participants. 

“I’m really excited about it, because I think it would absolutely elevate the level of care that we’re able to offer now,” Emmett said. “For folks that are in our programs, we strive to offer as many wraparound services as possible once they are in our care. We’re trying to link them to housing, medical, dental and psychiatric services. We partner with different organizations for education, for folks that are studying to get their GED or wanting to go back to school or maybe they’re underemployed and need additional training.” 

The funding, which would come from the Council of Accountability Court Judges, would be for six months starting in January. If the grant is awarded, Emmett said they would use the money to hire a part-time human services coordinator to create comprehensive discharge plans and expand weekly psychiatric services. 

“One of the missing pieces that we haven’t had the staff and resources to offer is this, helping make sure that before folks are even released from jail and coming into our program that they have a pretty extensive discharge plan,” Emmett said. 

The funding would also help pay for health screening and testing that is required for certain residential facilities before someone can be enrolled, Emmett said. 

The grant application was moved to the commissioners’ consent agenda, and Emmett said they hope to hear if they have received the grant in mid-November. 

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