Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in our sister newspaper, The Decatur Daily, about how a fatal police shooting last weekend in Decatur may have its roots in the mental health crisis of the State. Although it specifically highlights the situation in Morgan County, it addresses an important issue that every part of the state is currently grappling with.
Madison County has certainly seen its own share of tragic mental health situations. Fortunately, Madison County Probate Judge Frank Barger has made grassroots efforts since taking office to better help those who suffer from mental illness. Yet too many people are falling through the cracks and families have little hope, especially with situations similar to those that led to Saturday’s incident in Decatur.
A Decatur man who died last weekend in a shootout with police was already in the state’s criminal justice system.
According to Kimberly Thurston, Morgan County Community Corrections Director, Nicholas Edward Oden, 33, was serving concurrent state sentences for manufacturing a controlled substance and first-degree robbery. He had also missed several meetings with officials about his involvement in the Morgan County Community Corrections Program. He did not show up for the first time on his initial Community Corrections processing date of December 17. Then he missed a community corrections dismissal hearing last week.
Community corrections, like the Morgan County Drug Court, are programs intended to help ease the load on the state’s overburdened court system. They are also intended to help keep offenders out of the state’s overcrowded prison system, which faces federal intervention due to inhumane conditions.
Community corrections and drug court are effective programs that help reduce recidivism and prevent offenders from returning to the criminal justice system. But they can’t be expected to fix the state’s mental health issues, and Oden’s unfortunate case, at this point, appears to involve a mental health issue.
Police say prior to Saturday’s deadly confrontation, Oden was a suspect in an early morning home invasion robbery, in which Oden shot the owner before stealing the white Jeep he would be driving later that day when he led the police on a chase.
Ahead of the chase, Oden stopped by the Morgan Center event center near Beltline on Saturday morning, where he confronted people preparing for a party later that day. These people called the police, and one of them described to The Daily a man apparently in the throes of a mental health crisis.
The police are too often the first responders when people are going through a mental health crisis. Although the state has provided grants to improve officer training for such events and local departments have taken their own steps to help officers treat people with mental health issues, law enforcement is not not the ideal group to deal with mental health issues. emergencies.
By this weekend, events may have reached a point where there was nothing anyone could do to achieve a better outcome. Maybe we should all just be grateful that no one else was killed. But these events make us wonder what could have been done differently in the weeks and months before.
The $2.7 billion General Fund budget approved by the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday provides additional funding to the Alabama Department of Mental Health to build community mental health centers and implement implementing crisis intervention training programs to improve state mental health services.
State leaders know Alabama is experiencing a mental health crisis, and they are finally devoting more resources to addressing it. But that’s just the start, and it’s not just a matter of additional resources. How these resources are deployed is also important, and the events of the past weekend indicate that there is a need for formal lines of communication between community corrections and mental health professionals.
The US Department of Justice cited the poor state of mental health care in Alabama prisons. There is no reason to think that the mental health of offenders serving sentences outside prison is much better. It is also a problem that the state must tackle.