States Supporting Familiar Faces in Georgia

The Problem

People with behavioral health needs are overrepresented in local criminal justice systems across the country. Nationally, approximately 20 percent of people in jails have a serious mental illness compared to about 4 percent of the general population.

People with mental illness in the criminal justice system often cycle through several systems, including behavioral and physical health, crisis, and housing. These individuals with frequent contact in multiple systems are often called “familiar faces.”

Local data from across Georgia supports the need for policy and program changes to improve outcomes for people who are familiar faces.

  • Fulton County (Atlanta) matched housing, behavioral health, and jail data to identify and analyze a pilot cohort of 100 people with high use of multiple systems. They found that people who are familiar faces are booked into local jails 10 times more frequently and use 20 times the number of jail bed days than the general jail population, costing $1.3 million annually in jail bed days alone.
  • Another study conducted by the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council looked at the people who had the most bookings (top 1 percent) across 9 diverse county jails in Georgia and found that people who are familiar faces were booked into jail, on average, 15 times over a 5-year period, or 3 times annually.

How the States Supporting Familiar Faces Initiative Helped

From 2022 to 2023, the States Supporting Familiar Faces (SSFF) project supported two states, Georgia and New Mexico, in reorienting funding and policies to strengthen local data-driven efforts to improve outcomes for familiar faces. As part of the SSFF project, state and local policymakers and practitioners in Georgia received 18 months of intensive support from The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. The CSG Justice Center served as facilitators and convenors by bringing together a coalition of 12 Georgia counties to inform the project, hosting focus groups with subject matter experts and people with lived experience, and meeting with stakeholders from across the state on key issues, such as housing and behavioral health services, data collection and sharing, and justice system diversion.

The project was guided by the Familiar Faces Advisory Committee, under the Mental Health Court and Corrections subcommittee of the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission (BHRIC). The Advisory Committee had representation from state and local behavioral health, housing, criminal justice, and law enforcement disciplines; from all three branches of government; and from people with direct experience in behavioral health and justice systems. Over the course of the project, the CSG Justice Center supported the Advisory Committee in identifying and implementing locally driven, data-informed recommendations to improve outcomes for familiar faces.

Implementation and Impact

The recommendations of the Familiar Faces Advisory Committee were presented to the BHRIC in November 2022. Policy recommendations moved to implementation through administrative and regulatory action in 2023 and multiyear approaches requiring continued legislative action and future administrative changes. As of November 2023, implementation included the following:

  • Five jail in-reach pilots, including a peer support specialist, case manager, and validated mental health screening
  • A study of the behavioral health bed needs across the state to be completed in 2023
  • A study of the behavioral health workforce needs across the state, which has been completed
  • The formation of a cross-system working group that has established shared definitions of serious and persistent mental Illness, familiar faces, and homelessness for the state
  • The creation of a Forensic Competency Task Force to study and generate policy recommendations about processes, rules, and statutes regarding competency to stand trial evaluation and restoration