With a press conference and a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office officially kicked off its program of providing 24-hour mental health services for detainees at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center.

The program will be operated by Wellpath, and will include an onsite psychiatrist during the day, along with psychiatric nurses and licensed practical nurses to provide 24-hour coverage for the program.

Sheriff Craig Owens announced that the program is the first among Georgia jails, and he hopes that it can become a model for other sheriff’s offices and detention centers.

Cobb County Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Leonard said that the program would dovetail with Cobb County’s Accountability Courts, which also have an orientation to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“I don’t think it’s really a surprise to probably anybody in this room that our jails, for a number of different reasons, have become the largest providers of mental health services around. And so that’s not an ideal situation …” he said.“There are a number of downstream benefits that I think that this county will receive from this program, and specifically, that the court will get from it,” he said.

“Number one, I think it’s going to position people to be better situated when they arrived in court,” Leonard said. “Right now most of the time, I don’t even know that there’s a mental health issue until the case is already on my active calendar.” He said at that stage the realization that a mental health issue is involved can result in months of delay.

“Number two, I think it’s going to increase everybody’s likelihood for success,” he said. “At some point, these folks are going to get out of jail, maybe getting a bond,” he said. Lastly, he said, the program can work with the court to identify eligible candidates for the Accountability Courts. “We’ve got several different accountability courts that dovetail nicely with this, including our Mental Health Court, which has been recognized as a model for the State of Georgia and our Veterans Court and our Drug Treatment Court,” he said. “So our Accountability Court judges stand ready to step in and get our teams ready to snap those cases up once those are identified at an earlier stage,” Leonard said. “Those are the benefits I think we’ll see.”

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