Jails and prisons are no place for nonviolent persons whose mental illness got them into trouble with the law. Kudos to Quad Cities Interfaith (QCI) and its partners that made mental health court a reality in Scott County. (See story on Page 1).
But we have 22 counties in the Davenport Diocese and each one could benefit from a similar project, designed to help persons with mental illness to receive the appropriate treatment and turn their lives around.
Faith-based community organizing made mental health court possible in Scott County, and that grassroots effort is doable and worthy of replication in the other 20 counties in our diocese. Perhaps QCI would be willing to conduct community organizing workshops in at least some of these other counties and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) could fund a couple of workshops.
Meanwhile, let’s convince Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and our state legislators to give more than lip service to mental health court. In his 2016 Condition of the State address to the Iowa General Assembly, Gov. Branstad called for ensuring the survival of drug and mental health courts across the state. Drug courts made the cut, but what about mental health court? Why does the state have just two mental health courts — one in Council Bluffs and the other in Ottumwa?
Our legislative leaders have to know that jail diversion programs such as drug court and mental health court are fiscally prudent. They should have read the results in a Comprehensive Jail Diversion Program-Mental Health Courts Study released in December 2012. More importantly, to people of faith, mental health court and drug court serve the common good by seeking more effective solutions to problems that plague our society.
Here are some proposed actions to bring mental health courts to all of Iowa’s counties:
• Statehouse representatives and senators need to know that we as people of faith see these types of projects worthy of state funds. Call the governor and let him know, too.
• Read the state study (http://tinyurl.com/zmz4ouv) and other reports on the efficacy of diversion programs. Then share with elected officials the value that diversion programs provide to communities. It’s a lot more expensive to keep someone in jail.
• Support efforts to advocate for federal funds for mental health court. Scott County lost out eight years ago on federal funding, which went to larger communities. “We need diversion programs available to every jurisdiction in the diocese so that justice can be served,” observes Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s director of Social Action.
• Organize a gathering in your community as a way to discern issues of importance. Community organizing is about ordinary people, particularly the poor and marginalized, being able to come together to express frustration and concerns and to find their voice.
Call for immigration reform
The U.S. Supreme Court’s deadlocked 4-4 ruling in the U.S. v Texas lawsuit concerning immigrants without documentation is proof that this country needs to take decisive action on immigration reform – now.
Judicial stalemate on the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) does nothing more than raise fear for millions wondering when — not if — their families will be torn apart.
Tell your senators and representative that you want them to take up immigration reform. To call your senators, dial 1-888-738-3058. To call your representative, dial 1-888-410-0619.
And don’t forget this important advice from Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the Committee on Migration for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
“People do not cease to be our brothers and sisters just because they have an irregular immigration status. No matter how they got here, we cannot lose sight of their humanity — without losing our own. Let us pray for our immigrant brothers and sisters today.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor