Federal grant awarded to help mental health problems in the community

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Addressing mental health issues in the community is no easy task. But with a little help from a federal grant, Burleigh County hopes to make a difference.

The Burleigh Morton Detention center has been awarded a 300-thousand dollar federal grant in conjunction with the Heartview Foundation. They have noticed a flaw in the criminal justice system where people who are often repeat offenders are connected to a mental health problem in some way.

“There seems to be a revolving door there. They come out, and they’re not connected to care, and they go back in. And so there’s that cycle that you have to break somehow,” said Heartview’s Doug Herzog, who helped draft the grant’s application.

In 2017 alone, Bismarck Police Department identified 32 people with known behavioral health issues.
That group accounted for nearly 900 contacts with police. And in those, they were jailed or detained over 200 times.

Herzog added, “The whole purpose is to bring behavioral health and the justice community together to come up with some creative solutions to the problems with the vast number of behavioral health issues that are winding up in jail.”

So far, they have a few key plans put in place. One is to train all law enforcement in the Bismarck-Mandan area with Crisis Intervention Training and mental health first aid.

“It’s going to give the officers some usage on the street on how to handle those situations in a better capacity,” said Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert.

They plan to hire more behavioral health specialists in the area. And having a place other than jail to take these people to get them connected with the services they need.

Heinert added, “The criminal justice system has to participate with the mental health system and be more cooperative together to treat the mental health issue first before we take care of the criminal side.”

These changes aren’t happening over night. But with the help of this grant, it may come a lot sooner. Burleigh was only among a handful to be chosen for the grant.

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