Inmate advocates say mental illness is far more prevalent within prison walls than the general population; the difference is even more pronounced for females.
People with cognitive limits and thought to pose a threat after getting out of prison can receive planning services as their sentence nears completion. The aim is to ease the transition back to society while protecting the community, but it's breaking the bank, leaving legislators looking for a solution.
"The funding streams are for certain things and people don't just have one, they aren't in one box," said Lynn Boyle of the Vt. Agency of Human Services.
Services for covered disorders can be reimbursed. But many functionally impaired inmates don't qualify for coverage because their conditions fall outside legal definitions, like inmates with an IQ a point or two above government cutoffs for funding. This leaves the state with the bill for these inmates known as Significantly Functionally Impaired. So, to rein in costs, the Agency of Human Services has a temporary hold on treatment for those inmates.
Sixty-one percent of last year's 221 cases resolved for less than $100,000 each. But 7 percent cost more than $200,000 and a couple exceeded $300,000.
"We've got to create systems that support the correct response rather than the only remaining response, which is a call to 911," Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said.
Schirling says the state continues to struggle placing patients since the closure of the state mental hospital in Waterbury. If released individuals are not getting the help they need, the police are forced to fill-in, despite a lack of psychiatric expertise. He says a crisis facility would benefit everyone.
"The people with severe personality disorders are not really who SFI programs are best suited to serve," said Margaret Joyal of Washington County Mental Health Services.
Mental health administrators say focusing on the low-cost cases and excluding the expensive ones with low probability for success could keep the program alive. But should legislators pursue that option, the question of what to do with the others will remain.
The study committee is composed of members of both the House and the Senate. The legislative session will resume in January.