Ga. works to keep mentally ill out of prison

Georgia Bureau of Investigation director says jails becoming asylums


By Steve Visser
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Bureau of Investigation director Vernon Keenan isn't known for being soft on crime, but he is working to keep one class of "criminals" out of jail.

Keenan, like sheriffs statewide, contends law enforcement turns jails into asylums at huge human and financial costs. Now, a study in which the GBI is partnering with the Georgia chapter of the National Alliance of Mentally ill, shows how to keep people with schizophrenia, bipolar and other mental diseases out of jail, Keenan said.

"The project is designed to prevent the acutely mentally ill from routinely being incarcerated," he said. "It is a humane program, but one that also has significant taxpayer savings. The participants have been arrested dozens of times and been in and out of jail, usually for minor crimes."

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