Local efforts to improve mental health and criminal justice system

On Special Assignment
Arrested on Monday

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Setting fires and breaking windows—Anthony Tolbert is accused in four criminal cases just this month although his record goes back to 2011. He is usually found incompetent to stand trial and released. Another face to add to this familiar story.

“We see the revolving door issue and one of the reasons for that is that no one’s communicating,” said Max Kauffman, a mental health attorney with the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender.

People struggling with mental health issues or drug or alcohol addictions can pass through a series of different organizations on their path through the criminal justice system, from the emergency room to the jail to the courthouse to service providers.

“One of the fundamental issues that we see in Albuquerque is that there is no coordination between all these parties. So we’re doing duplicating efforts or we’re not addressing the needs when they need to be addressed and so people are falling through the cracks,” Kauffman said.

CJCC Report from December

For instance, up to eight different organizations providing case management services could meet with the same person in jail. By the end of it, the inmate hardly remembers who he talked to about what. That is according to a December report from the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

The council brings agencies like the District Attorney’s office, courts and police together to the table to improve communication to address those issues.

“We’re working now to shorten the gap between when someone is booked and when we realize that they need some sort of help,” Kauffman explained.

There are interventions out there, like when people get released from jail. They get dropped off at the Resource Re-entry Center where they can get connected to services to try to break the cycle in and out of jail.

Now, the goal is reducing redundancies and improving care with existing behavioral health services.

KRQE News 13 spoke with the county’s Behavioral Health Services Director.

“How do we really do what we can to stretch all of our funding and workforce to address the needs in the community?” Margarita Chavez-Sanchez said.

She said her department and the jail are getting new management software to more efficiently track where people are in the behavioral health and criminal justice system.

“Which will help us to ensure really better data collection and monitor the care of our clients in a different way,” she said.

Still, the county department only offers voluntary services, so they can only help those who actually want it. Voters passed a tax in 2014 that now generates more than $20 million a year for behavioral health services in Bernalillo County.

You can see the list of available Behavioral Health Services here.

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