Men­tal ill­ness, DUI link stud­ied

Lack­awanna County one of six sites in na­tion to par­tic­i­pate.

The Times-Tribune - - Front Page - BY PETER CAMERON

STAFF WRITER A project out of Har­vard Med­i­cal School se­lected Lack­awanna County as one of six sites na­tion­ally to pi­lot a com­puter pro­gram to iden­tify links be­tween men­tal ill­ness and DUI ar­rests.

Since June, the county tested more than 100 sus­pected DUI of­fend­ers us­ing the Com­put­er­ized As­sess­ment and Re­fer­ral Sys­tem, or CARS, said Wil­liam Hoban, the direc­tor of the Lack­awanna/ Susque­hanna Of­fice of Drug and Al­co­hol Pro­grams, which is run­ning the pro­gram.

“It re­ally has been a great and in­no­va­tive pro­gram for us to be a part of,” Mr. Hoban said. “We cer­tainly see it as a valu­able tool.”

Al­though the pro­gram of­fi­cially ended last month, sev­eral of the sites, in­clud­ing Lack­awanna County, de­cided to keep us­ing it, Mr. Hoban said.

The project cites a study that sug­gested 45 per­cent of re­peat DUI of­fend­ers have a ma­jor men­tal disor­der that is not al­co­hol- or drug-re­lated.

The CARS test asks peo­ple mul­ti­ple-choice ques­tions on is­sues per­tain­ing to if they ever con­sid­ered hurting

them­selves, if they of­ten feel sad for long pe­ri­ods of time, and if they of­ten have ar­gu­ments with oth­ers.

While the main goal is to en­sure the pro­gram can gather smoothly data on men­tal ill­ness, it also iden­ti­fies peo­ple who may need a more ex­ten­sive men­tal health screen­ing for some­thing like de­pres­sion or post­trau­matic stress disor­der. Of the 104 peo­ple the pro­gram tested, Mr. Hoban’s of­fice re­ferred 101 to var­i­ous men­tal health ser­vices. Ideally, the pro­gram will cut down on peo­ple re-of­fend­ing by help­ing them ad­dress their men­tal health is­sues.

Whether they fol­low through is up to the in­di­vid­ual, Mr. Hoban said, and is not tracked by this pro­gram.

The ini­tial screen­ing is free to of­fend­ers who agree to take the com­puter test as part of their bail con­di­tions. It costs the county noth­ing, Mr. Hoban said, be­cause of­fend­ers take the test on county com­put­ers set up at his of­fice.

The pro­gram is part of the Lack­awanna County Court sys­tem’s push to ad­dress root causes of crimes — like men­tal health and ad­dic­tion — in a pre­trial set­ting, and hope­fully re­duce them.

Lack­awanna County is us­ing the test im­me­di­ately on sus­pected of­fend­ers, rather than wait­ing months for the crim­i­nal case to be re­solved.

The other five CARS sites are Mil­wau­kee; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Stock­ton, California; and Cam­bridge and Du­luth in Min­nesota.

All the sites re­ported a rel­a­tively smooth tran­si­tion to in­te­grate the com­puter test into their crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tems, and sev­eral may use the test in other en­vi­ron­ments, such as men­tal health court and in lo­cal jails, said Erin Holmes, spokes­woman for the project.

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