The bill, which Marsh said is scheduled for its third reading next week, would require mental health treatment facilities to be approved by the “governing authority of the municipality in which the facility is to be located.”
Marsh said he was approached in November by Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge and members of the Trinity Baptist Church in Oxford regarding their concerns for lack of supervision over several local rehab facilities.
“Our concern is that they’re legitimate and making sure they’re getting adequate counseling from licensed individuals,” Marsh said of the programs and their clients.
Marsh said he was originally going to draft a local bill, but discovered interest from other senators with similar problems in other counties.
“The concern with these operations is whether they were being monitored by somebody,” Marsh said.
Marsh said he hopes if the bill passes that local governments will work with mental health boards and police agencies to inspect rehab facilities.
Partridge said he wants to make sure only state-certified facilities are allowed in his city.
“We need to have some type of regulations so we know who these people are, where they are and when they’re leaving,” Partridge said.
Judges often grant probation to drug offenders who plead guilty on the condition that they enroll in drug treatment programs. But the state provides little oversight to programs based on its rehab method.
A majority of people sent to rehab programs by judges from other counties have nowhere to go once they are released, Partridge said.
Oxford police have repeatedly charged former rehab patients with burglary and vehicle thefts after their release from the program or while they’re supposedly still receiving treatment, Partridge said.
On Jan. 18, Oxford police shot and killed a former Tri-County Outreach patient after he threatened officers with a knife. The man reportedly had several warrants for his arrest for local thefts and burglaries. The chief said he believes his officers face unneeded risk because of these programs.
“If somebody doesn’t stand up and do something I believe the problem is going to get progressively worse over time,” Partridge said.
Partridge said he’s supportive of rehab programs for criminals, but would rather see them conducted in jails. Many of the programs in Oxford are run out of homes and the chief finds their locations concerning. Several of the programs can be found within blocks of the high school, Partridge said.
“We don’t know who is in these houses and you have children walking home from school who go by these places,” he said.
“Not conducive for good health”
C.O. Grinstead, pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church, said he’s not opposed to rehab programs, but believes guidance is needed for the programs to fully help its patients.
“We’re just trying to stop the wrong that was coming out of these things,” Grinstead said.
Grinstead said he’s spoken to former rehab patients during his time as chaplain in the Calhoun County Jail. He said the stories he’s heard about the programs drove him to talk to several circuit court judges and Marsh.
“Several of these rehabs are operating in very crowded conditions. It’s not conducive for good health, let alone good living,” Grinstead said.
Judge fears closure
District Judge Chris McIntyre worries the bill will give city councils the power to eliminate many of the local rehab programs, especially those that are considered “faith-based.”
“I worry that they’ll just say no to everybody and what will that leave the county stuck with? We’ll have to put everybody in jail,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre estimates he’s sent 20 to 30 people to rehab facilities since he picked up his gavel in January. He said he speaks with rehab facility owners before he sends people there, but he doesn’t “micromanage” them. The judge said he makes sure the person sent to rehab isn’t committing crimes and hasn’t been using drugs during their treatment. If he receives a negative report, McIntyre said, he removes the person from the program and sends them to jail.
“That’s all I can do,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre said he’s a proponent of rules and regulations for rehab programs, but he’s still concerned with jails being overcrowded.
Hank Waide, executive director of the Anniston Fellowship House, said under current law if a rehab program is not providing treatment they are not required to be certified by the Department of Mental Health.
“I know some places kind of used the faith-based mantle and they have no real affiliation with any kind of board of directors or anything,” Waide said.
Waide said he believes program oversight is important, especially when many of the people admitted to rehab programs are simply looking to avoid jail.
“We want to see fair effective treatment for everybody,” Waide said. “Being in recovery yourself doesn’t give people the knowledge to treat addictions.”
Waide, whose certified rehab program has been treating men with addictions since 1968, said he intends to do what’s required by the bill if it passes.
Attempts to reach officials with other local rehab programs for this story, including Tri-County Outreach, Center of Hope and Real Life Recovery, were unsuccessful.
Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.