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Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS - In one year, 37 percent of people who have been in a mental health hospital. have also been in jail.

But doctors say jail is not a cure for the illnesses causing people to be repeat violent offenders. And now, they are working to change that.

The prisons have been called revolving doors and the largest mental illness facilities in the state.

'We're the prison capitol of the earth, not only in the United States. We have 40,000 offenders, half of them, more than half of them, are in parish jails and receive almost nothing (in the way of treatment),' said Dr. Peter Scharf, a Tulane public health professor and criminologist.

Now experts want to change that with research, hoping to get evidence that treating all the addiction, depression and other mental illnesses among those incarcerated, will keep them from coming back.

'We're trying to avoid unprepared release where there's no support, no education, no training, no mental health treatment, and put into play the best preventive mental health decision making skills so they have a chance to be successful,' he explained.

Dr. Scharf said three new state and federal grants totaling $1.1 million puts money behind these projects. And with the cost to society of a murder -- $1 million -- the cost of a brain or spinal cord injury -- $3 to $5 million -- and the $300,000 cost of going back to prison for 10 years, preventing one murder would well pay for the grants.

'We're working with the 250 most hardened offenders in the city. We're actually trying to avert violent crime as well as help them succeed in the community. And we're doing a variety of substance abuse training, a variety of psychology based skills, so that they don't come back. We don't want them back' said Dr. Scharf.

And with treatment, there is more of a chance offenders could work, be reunited with families, support their children and be a productive citizens.

Dr. Scharf is also working on the 'Youth Promise Act,' a federal bill to develop crime prevention programs for youths in detention centers.

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