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Economy and Prisoner Re-entry Burden Community Mental Health Programs

May 12, 2010

LANSING, Mich. - More Michigan families are reaching out to community mental health services for help coping with job losses and the related economic fallout. However, the increased demand for services comes at a time when the state is also ramping up its prisoner re-entry program, leaving greater numbers of former prison inmates in need of services, too.

Maxine Thome, executive director, National Association of Social Workers' Michigan chapter, says despite these increasing demands, federal, state and local money is drying up – which, in her view, contradicts the very laws that govern Community Mental Health Services (CMH).

"'The Community Mental Health Services program shall provide a comprehensive array of mental health services appropriate to conditions of individuals, regardless of an individual's ability to pay.' So, the CMHs are really dependent on federal Medicaid money."

Thome points out that not everyone qualifies for Medicaid assistance, and it is unlikely that uninsured or under-insured individuals will get the services they need, so she predicts the burden will be shifted to law enforcement agencies and hospitals. The result, she says, is that tax dollars will be spent for mental health care – one way or the other.

"What we'll see are more people being released from the Michigan re-entry programs who are really in need of services, who are not getting them. You know, I think for some people, it's easier to live in prison than it is to live outside of prison without supportive services."

In a continuing trend, Thome says, this year's state funding for such services is slated to be reduced by $384 million. It can be difficult for people to understand, she adds, that without increasing taxes or revenue, even mandated services cannot be maintained.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI