Corrections and State Mental Health Funding

Corrections and State Mental Health Funding

Antonia Moras

Moras, Antonia. (Spring 2004). "Corrections and State Mental Health Funding." Alaska Justice Forum 21(1): 4. Since FY 2002, there has been a large decrease in the amount of money allocated for mental health programs throughout the Alaska, including many programs that affect the situation of offenders with mental illness. This article discusses state mental health funding to the Alaska Department of Corrections and other mental health programs which serve offenders.

Since FY 2002, there has been a large decrease in the amount of money allocated for mental health programs throughout the state, including many programs that affect the situation of offenders with mental illness. Between FY 2002 and FY 2004 the total operating budget for state mental health programs across all agencies decreased by 8 percent, or close to $12 million, according to a study of the state FY02-FY04 mental health budget base released this March. The FY 2005 budget passed by the legislature reflects a further 5 percent decrease below FY04 levels. The study notes that the numbers themselves do not fully describe the funding changes. Many costs previously borne by the state have been shifted to federal funding sources, including Medicaid. Information Insights, Inc., in Fairbanks, conducted the study for the Mental Health Trust Authority.

With only a 1.4 percent decrease overall between FY02 and FY05, the mental health component of the DOC operating budget has not been as severely cut as that of other agencies, but there has been a reduction in funds for programs available to inmates with mental illness. In addition, substance abuse programs have been eliminated in 13 facilities throughout the state, with only residential programs for the most severely addicted still funded—at Hiland Mountain and Meadow Creek. Federal funds have formed the basis for these remaining residential programs, with the state providing match. In addition, some of the programs directly aimed at assisting mentally ill offenders, such as the Jail Alternative Services (JAS) project, are still being funded on a pilot basis.

Although the DOC mental health budget has remained relatively stable, the situation of many of the mentally ill under the jurisdiction of DOC is ultimately affected by cuts to other agencies—those which may be funding treatment programs in the community or low cost housing programs. The budget of the Department of Health and Social Services, which administers many of these programs or channels grant monies for them, decreased 9 percent between FY02 and FY04, with a further 5 percent cut in the FY05 budget. Moreover, the shift to Medicaid funding in some program areas has resulted in eligibility and administrative gaps affecting some discharged inmates.

In contrast to many other state units, the court system’s mental health component—for mental health court and the other therapeutic courts—has increased steadily since FY02, with a significant increase in FY05 funding.

The mental health component of state agency budgets is covered by a separate legislative bill—the Mental Health Appropriations Bill. The Mental Health Trust Authority, a public corporation established by statute, makes annual program-specific budget recommendations to the governor for all state agencies with mental health-related programs. The Trust is charged with responsibility for the needs of four populations: those who experience mental illness, mental retardation or similar disabilities, chronic alcoholism with psychosis, or Alzheimer’s or related dementia. Trust budget recommendations thus cover a broad array of programs and services across many state agencies. The governor’s office submits its revisions of the Trust’s recommendations to the legislature, which works out the final mental health budget concurrently with the general state budget.