ATLANTA - Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis says mental health is a real problem that she cannot prosecute her way out of. Instead, she is turning to professionals at the Morehouse School of Medicine to help inmates transition to life outside, so they do not end up back behind bars.
"I am tired of seeing that we are using our prisons and our jail systems as mental health wards," she said.
Willis announced a new partnership Wednesday with the Morehouse School of Medicine. The program is for those who have been exonerated of a crime or who have been convicted but are eligible for a sentence reduction. She says both of those situations are something her office has focused on since she was elected, now she says this program will also let her help prisoners with mental health issues.
"This is yet another program to say, hey, we want to release you early from prison, we want to restore you," Willis said. "We want you to be a productive member of society, but we realize you have some struggles."
The Prison Policy Initiative says more than 40% of those in prisons have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
The program is made possible by a federal grant, and they hope to help at least 120 people in the next year and a half.
"What we’ve talked about is having a comprehensive mental health evaluation while they’re still incarcerated," said Dr. Sarah Vinson, Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the Morehouse School of Medicine.
The program is expected to help reduce the chance of someone getting arrested again.
Willis says this is about getting services to those who need it and making sure they have support once they get out of prison.
"We do think this is a very unique program and that it is a great way to restore some faith in the justice system, some faith in the medical profession," she said. "To really put health services around people."
The program is expected to officially start in January.
Willis says this is a dream come true and believes it can do some real good.