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State cuts threaten aid to mentally ill
Proposed state funding cuts could gut program designed to provide alternative to jail for mentally ill troublemakers

 Dorothy Boling and Mike Kalandras sit at Discovery House in Warsaw, which provides on-site counselors and other programs through the regional community services board to help people who suffer from mental illness.
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Date published: 1/22/2010


The Northern Neck Regional Jail is "terrible, crowded, noisy and the food is awful," said Mike Kalandras.

He ought to know. He's been there enough.

Kalandras' criminal record in Richmond and Northumberland counties is 20 charges long: 15 of them for bad checks, some stealing, a breaking and entering, plus several probation infractions. He also suffers from manic depression.

Kalandras, 46, is not alone. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 17 percent of jail and prison inmates have serious mental illness. At that rate, more than 11,000 of Virginia's 67,000 jail and prison inmates suffer significant mental problems.

When he was released from jail three months ago, Kalandras had nowhere to go. Luckily, he was spotted by a jail diversion program that gave him a room in a group home, helped him manage his medicines and took him to his probation appointments as well as intensive substance-abuse and anger-management counseling.

"Since I've been in the program, I've been on an even keel and pretty stable," he said. "They look after my medicines and take good care of me.

"I've become more open-minded and have a more positive attitude toward people. I've learned to see things in a different light. At first, I wouldn't talk to anybody. Now, I can't shut up."

Kalandras believes the jail diversion program run by the Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck Community Services Board has helped him chart a new course for his life.

If a judge concurs, Kalandras plans to move to Florida to be with relatives and perhaps find a job as a cook, something he learned to enjoy while fixing meals for his fellow residents in the group home.

Kalandras' future may be brighter than the future of the program that helped him.

Revenue shortfalls totaling nearly $4 billion prompted former Gov. Tim Kaine to propose cutting $1 million of the $3 million allocated to 10 jail diversion programs in the state.

New Gov. Bob McDonnell has not specifically addressed mental-health funding, but he said he will strike some $2 billion in tax increases built into Kaine's proposal, which would require further spending cuts.

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