Baton Rouge scales down plans for mental health diversion program

A small-scale mental health diversion program that proponents say will reduce needless incarceration in Baton Rouge and help fight the opioid epidemic is moving forward after months of planning.

The program—set in motion by a $50,000 MacArthur Foundation grant—is a scaled-down version of the Bridge Center for Hope, the proposed mental health diversion facility that has yet to get off the ground after voters last year rejected a tax to cover operating expenses. The new program should be up and running in the next couple months, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said today at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

“I firmly believe we can reduce the jail, prison population significantly here in Baton Rouge if we put the resources there,” said Moore, a board member of the Bridge Center.

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and her top staff have committed funding one or two positions for the effort, Moore said, but the money will not come in for several months. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation, he added, may advance some funding in the meantime.

Broome’s office did not respond to requests for comment before this afternoon’s publication. Moore estimates the total budget for the program at around $200,000.

A staff lawyer from Moore’s office or from the public defender’s office will essentially screen the parish prison logs for eligible candidates—mostly misdemeanor offenders with mental health issues who have not posted bail. If deemed eligible, the people will be released and given counseling services.

The program was delayed after the first pick for a case worker—which will be funded in part by the MacArthur grant—decided not to take the position, but Moore said he hopes to have another candidate chosen in the coming month.

If successful, proponents hope the program will prove itself as a model for reducing the jail population and improving mental health and drug addiction outcomes in the area. Broome and some Metro Council members considered putting another tax measure on the ballot this fall to fund the center, but ultimately decided to hold off until at least next year.

—Sam Karlin

There are no comments. Click to add your thoughts!