The number of people with mental illness in jails has been increasing in the United States since the deinstitutionalization movement began in the 1950’s. The problem has worsened in Baton Rouge over the last 10 years due to a lack of community resources and the closure of several state hospitals. When people with mental health issues were picked up for nonviolent minor offenses, first responders were left with only two choices – expensive emergency rooms or parish prison. In Baton Rouge, this meant prisoners were packed together with over-stretched resources. As a result, mentally ill people were suffering behind bars.
It was just too much and, as a consequence, five people with mental illness died in parish prison during 2013 to 2015. One of them was David O’Quin. Bill O’Quin, David’s father, approached the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF) about starting a project to decriminalize mental illness.
Working with behavioral health officials and justice system leaders, BRAF created The Bridge Center for Hope to provide an alternative. The strategy behind The Bridge Center for Hope was to develop a safety net to catch people in crisis, keeping them out of emergency rooms and offering treatment.
The Bridge Center for Hope is designed to stabilize people with mental illness and/or substance use challenges and connect them with service providers for the treatment they need.
The mission of The Bridge Center for Hope is to provide pathways to treatment for people experiencing behavioral health issues and to link providers to create an integrated continuum of care from prevention to rehabilitation.