Forensic mental health facility in Butler?

Published 9:34 am Thursday, April 4, 2019

SCAMH board seeks location for project Covington rejected

The board of South Central Alabama Mental Health is considering putting a 16-bed secure forensics facility in Butler County, the board’s chairman told The Greenville Advocate last week.

The board originally planned to place the facility in Andalusia, and had an agreement with the Covington County Commission, which purchased land adjacent to the county jail for the facility.

The board and the county went so far as to hold a groundbreaking at which state mental health officials announced the facility. But Covington County Circuit Judge Lex Short led a campaign in opposition of the facility, and the county commission decided not to transfer the land to the mental health board.

South Central Alabama Mental Health will manage the facility, which is expected to create 25 new jobs and a $1.5 million payroll.

Butler County Probate Judge Steve Norman, who chairs the board of SCAMH, told The Greenville Advocate the board is now pursuing the possibility of placing the facility in Butler County.

“The Department of Mental Health approached the South Central Alabama Mental Health Board with a proposition,” Norman said. “The site is in the throws of settling a lawsuit they were involved in dealing with mentally ill prisoners housed in county jails all over the state waiting to go to Taylor Hardin (Secure Medical Facility in Tuscaloosa) to be evaluated. It’s something that is going to happen. There is one already open and operating in Jefferson County. We will be the second one.”

South Central Alabama Mental Health agreed to pursue the project and sent a packet to all four countries’ economic development authorities describing the project and asking counties to participate, including site preparation or land acquisition, he said. Covington County had previously told the group they would purchase the land adjacent to the county jail and prepare the property. A groundbreaking was held in April before Covington County commissioners withdrew support last month.

Norman said Covington County never had to approve the project.

“We were asking for assistance,” he said. “As a board, it was obvious to us that some of the people in Covington County for whatever reason decided they didn’t want this project there. When that happened, our board responded. We just said we would look at the other three counties.”

Norman said all of the cases in which people would be housed in the facility would be circuit court cases and adjudicated in the circuit court.

“This program is about trying to get these people into a position where they can participate in their own defense and go to court and have a trial,” Norman said. “These are issues that need to be death with before it goes to trial. This is a secure, 16-bed facility. The model is to have a full-time, certified security officer there all the time.’

The site being considered in Butler County is in the industrial park next to the current SCAMH facility.

“The decision to locate it is actually in the hands of South Central Mental Health now,” Norman said. “I just want to make sure that if we meet and decide to put it in Greenville, then people won’t say they didn’t know about it.”

Norman said SCAMH already operates a 16-bed facility in Andalusia and has for more than a decade.

“We know how to operate a secure facility already,” he said. “This is not something new for us to run. It’s not a prison; it’s a treatment facility. These people will be here anywhere from a month to six months to be evaluated and treated. They’re trying to get recovered to where they can participate in their defense.