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Mental health criminalized

I read the Tidings/Tribune Rosebud series and editorial on why the new jail would be good for our county. I felt manipulated by this one-sided journalism. The project pulled all the right strings; “recovery stories,” “money in your pocket,” “criminals off the streets.” I needed some impartial information.

I attended the Ashland City Council Study Session and Business Meeting

Nov. 4 and 5.

Sheriff Sickler had presented to the council earlier in the year before it voted against allowing a bond measure to be placed on the 2020 Ashland ballot. He was back to update the council prior to a second vote. He gave a detailed report but in my opinion it was not objective. It was still very much weighted in support of building a new jail. Two members of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) countered the sheriff’s presentation with information about why mental illness should not be criminalized and those with mental illness should not be incarcerated in a jail for their illness.

Based on what I have learned to date, I am opposed to the building of a new Jackson County jail. I am in favor of using the land already purchased by the county and a ballot measure that would build a new mental health/recovery facility. Such a facility would address the underlying issues that result in people “breaking the law” which gets them into the criminal justice system where there is a shortage of beds. I would be in favor of upgrading the existing jail which has sufficient beds to house violent criminals and keep them “off the streets.”

At the Nov. 5 business meeting, the second vote on putting the bond measure on the 2020 Ashland ballot, was removed from the agenda due to a request from a councilor who asked that the vote be taken on Nov. 19.

On Nov. 19, I encourage Ashland citizens to attend the meeting at the council chambers on East Main Street or watch it on RVTV on channel 9 on Ashland Home Net or Channel 180 on Spectrum or live stream it on RVTV’s website at rvtv.sou.edu. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. This is an important issue that will have county-wide implications; prioritizing funding for the criminalization of mental illness, incarcerating those with addictions, which is a disease, and for homeowners, increasing your property taxes by at least $200-$400 a year for decades depending on the value of your house.

Civic engagement is crucial to ensure that our elected officials represent the will of the people.

Regina Ayars lives in Ashland.