AUGUSTA – There’s a new push in Augusta to ensure people struggling with their mental health can get help in their communities, instead of in county jails.
Some state lawmakers are looking to reform Maine’s mental health services by focusing spending not on jails and hospitals, but on community based services, like recovery centers and crisis help lines.
“More bricks and mortar is not what we need. We need to invest our dollars wisely on people, not buildings,” said Rep. Charlotte Warren (D – Hallowell) at a press conference Monday.
The legislation has gotten the support of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association.
Lawmakers said 86 percent of inmates in Maine are on medications for mental illness and that jails have become overcrowded.
“I will likely spend a million dollars this year on boarding inmates alone,” said Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, “but boarding inmates is not the only expensive thing about running a jail. It is very expensive to incarcerate people who do not need to be there.”
The reform comes from the recommendations of a bipartisan mental health work group.
On Monday, lawmakers said the bill had no opposition at its public hearing, and by keeping people out of jails it could save the state money in the long run.
“I see a hefty price tag…but I see in the very near future, if I could do a dynamic fiscal note on this, I would definitely see a significant savings to our property taxpayers,” said Rep. Beth O’Connor (R- Berwick).
Of the more than $4 million price tag attached to the bill, some of it would go to MaineCare reimbursement for peer services.
One lawmaker said the last administration’s MaineCare rollbacks resulted in a reduction of services – services her own child needs.
“We’ve had to call 911. We’ve had to have law enforcement in our home trying to help us because the community services that our adult child needs are simply not available,” said Sen. Cathy Breen (D – Falmouth).
The bill is set to have a work session in a couple weeks.