Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Positive Developments in a Tough Time

Believe it or not, several very positive developments recently occurred on key County priorities:

$8M To Abate Blight Caused by Foreclosures

First, we recently learned the great news that due to the recently passed Housing Bill in DC, Hamilton County will be receiving close to $8M in federal funds that will allow us to redevelop blighted, foreclosed properties in jurisdictions across the County. (The City received about the same amount for its neighborhoods).

While we had expected some dollars, this was definitely far more than I had expected.

Practically speaking, these dollars will allow us, working in partnership with those communities that are seeing the highest numbers of foreclosures, to eliminate the blight that those foreclosures are causing, which erode the value and quality of life of the surrounding neighborhood. We can invest to either demolish or rehabilitate blighted properties--and in the case of demolition, we can then invest to create greenspace, or new commercial or residential development opportunities.

Last week, anticipating that these dollars are coming, we called together leaders from the highest foreclosure communities to seek their initial input on how these dollars can be allocated to be most helpful to their needs, and we are reviewing the many guidelines and regulations that will instruct how the funds can be spent.

By December 1, guided by that input, we will submit our community plan to the federal government. Overall, this is a huge opportunity for many communities.

(Of course, our top priority continues to be to prevent foreclosures in the first place through our Homeowner Preservation efforts.)

Treating the Mentally Ill in Our Criminal Justice System

Second, like our drug court (see discussion in blog below), one of the more positive reforms in the County Courthouse in recent years has been the creation of the Mental Health Docket at the misdemeanor level.

This approach, led by Judges Stautberg and Allen, allows us to pay special attention to those arrested for nonviolent offenses who suffer from substantial mental illness. Rather than simply locking these folks up for a short time, ignoring their underlying mental illness, and seeing them reoffend a short time after release due once again to their untreated illness, the mental health docket has provided a great way to intervene and get them the help they need. It will reduce recidivism, and reduce the costs of our criminal justice system.

So far, this specialized approach has only been in place at the Municipal Court level. The Criminal Justice Commission has been clear that some type of specialized attention to those with mental illnesses should also be available at the Common Pleas level, as it is in other counties.

And here's where the good news comes in--the Health Foundation recently awarded the County a $75,000 planning grant to study and propose a comprehensive and concentrated effort to respond to those with mental illnesses at the Common Pleas level. This process should lead to a concrete plan by mid-2009 as to how we can apply best practices from across the country, as well as what we've learned here, to make sure we have a cutting-edge, safe and smart approach to dealing with mentally ill inmates at the Common Pleas level.

Thanks to all those involved in securing this grant, first and foremost the Health Foundation, and thanks to Judge West for leading the effort in the coming months.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had an opportunity to do "court watching" in the mental health court recently. It was absolutely re-affirming to observe the clients/defendants, the incredibly caring staff, -- and compassion in that court room. This program will be a star in our corner as a community leader.

Lord, there was one woman who was so glad she was sleeping "inside" now (an obvious coordination of caseworkers in the program)and the court was pleased she'd been keeping her clothes on.

Others were encouraged to continue their treatment programs, despite lapses - a very realistic and compassionate response to the symptom of noncompliance many mentally ill have difficulty with.

It was great to witness a successful investment of taxpayer funds working well to help people and save us money in the meanwhile.

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