Georgia Launches States Supporting Familiar Faces Initiative to Improve Outcomes for People Who Have Frequent Contact with Health and Justice Systems

July 28, 2022

The States Supporting Familiar Faces (SSFF) initiative will build on local and community efforts to improve public safety and better serve “familiar faces”—people with serious mental illness and substance use disorders who frequently cycle through jails, crisis services, homeless shelters, and hospitals. 

Because the familiar faces population has complex behavioral health needs—and because care is often fragmented across providers and systems—they may receive inconsistent or inadequate treatment and support, causing them to cycle through health care, criminal justice, and other community-based services. 

People with behavioral health needs are overrepresented in local criminal justice systems across the country and in Georgia. As of February 2022, 23 percent of Georgia’s prison population—10,679 people—had a mental illness, a figure that has increased by nearly 60 percent over the last 2 decades. People with mental illnesses may also become incarcerated more often or for longer periods of time. For example, the average length of stay for people with mental illnesses in Forsyth County jail is over 3 times as long as it is for people who do not have mental illnesses (44 days vs. 14 days).  

Some communities in Georgia have developed interventions to address the needs of familiar faces while others lack the appropriate resources or coordination to do so. And in many communities, there are few alternatives to jails or emergency departments, leading to an overreliance on law enforcement and other first responders in a behavioral health crisis. These compounding issues have led to costly overuse of publicly funded services without improving outcomes for familiar faces. 

This initiative, made possible through support from Arnold Ventures as part of the national Familiar Faces Initiative, will focus on community-determined models of care that are person centered and culturally affirming and meet the complex needs of people who have frequent contact with local behavioral health and criminal justice systems.  

As part of this initiative, community leaders will receive 18 months of intensive support from The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center including recommendations for policy change based on analysis of local data and best practices in Georgia and nationally. The recommendations will be presented to Georgia’s Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission for consideration.  

The project will be guided by the Familiar Faces Advisory Committee, established by the Mental Health Parity Act. The advisory committee is composed of state and local leaders in the behavioral health, housing, and criminal justice fields, representing all three branches of government and including people with lived experience in justice and health service systems. 

About the authors

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Brenna Callahan
Senior Media Relations Manager, Communications and External Affairs
Brenna Callahan drives strategic media relations and public affairs to advance organization-wide initiatives. Prior to joining the CSG Justice Center, Brenna managed national communications for a civic engagement nonprofit. She previously developed and managed a communications and economic equity policy
portfolio for Mayor Marty Walsh’s Office of Women’s Advancement at the City of Boston. Brenna also worked in both development and operations roles at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, where she managed agency-wide programming. Brenna earned a BA in English from Boston College and an MPA at Suffolk University.
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  • Amy Button
    Amy Button
    Project Manager, Behavioral Health
    Amy Button supports local and state policymakers and other community stakeholders to develop and implement data-driven policies focused on improving outcomes for people with behavioral health needs who are in the criminal justice system. Before joining the CSG Justice Center,
    Amy led community engagement in New York State for a National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded implementation research project studying community-led, data-driven strategies to reduce opioid overdose deaths. She has worked in local and state government and health care systems to improve practice, data use, and outcomes for populations with high service utilization and complex clinical and social needs. Amy has a BA in literature from Hartwick College and an MPA from Marist College.
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