Last week I went to a National Association of Counties’ “Health & Justice” forum. There were other county council members and commissioners from throughout the country sharing their efforts to work on the intersection of health and justice.
So often, in government we work within our own specialty. Our justice system works on keeping our streets safe, arrest, prosecute, try, and if guilty, lock them up. Our health system focuses on educating the public on good health practices, preventing disease and injuries, as well as working with the community to improve conditions that can lead to unhealthy lifestyles and environments that often result in negative impacts on the community at large.
I have a favorite quote that I try to live by, “Apart we’re smart, together we’re brilliant!” My big take-away from this conference was that we need to work across systems and departments to build on existing strengths in order to respond to our communities’ problems. The relationship between health and justice is moving more and more toward integration. The solution to what we are seeing in our communities will not take place if we continue to stay in our silos. We are starting to understand that our jail has to have mental health services, that our police often need a mental health professional along with them when responding to a call for service, that we find great success from our drug courts, and great strides in the reduction of juvenile crime when we provide services for the youth and their family.
Pierce County can and will build on our county’s existing strengths and make improvements through partnerships. We have a pressing need for intervention and support and together we will work toward success.