UNION SPRINGS, Ala. (WSFA) - Some controversy is brewing in Union Springs between concerned citizens, local leaders, and a mental health facility. It involves transferring people who got in trouble with the law but who were found not guilty by mental defect.
An unholy alliance is developing between Eastside Baptist Church in Union Springs and East Central Mental Health headquartered in Troy some 30 minutes away. The uneasiness could be felt through Tom Pugh.
“If it comes, you feel like you might need to put your gun on, get your Bible and go to church," Pugh said. "If they get out, you have no idea what they’ll do.”
This is the issue at hand; East Central wants to transfer up to 15 patients who ran afoul with the law but were found not guilty by mental defect. The clients would stay in Union Springs, a property owned by East Central Mental Health, and continue their treatments. The facility is right across the street from the church at Holcombe Avenue and Abercrombie Street, just blocks from downtown.
“I think the community is overdramatizing the type patients we’re moving," said East Central Mental Health Executive Director Don Schofield. “We will be moving individuals who are stable and who have been in treatment in state facilities.”
The concern rose to a level where the Union Springs city council called an emergency meeting Friday morning. The topic? Hire an attorney to see if the move can be blocked. The council voted unanimously to hire local attorney Lynn Jinks for more than $300 an hour.
“There is always a first time, and I don’t want it to happen in Union Springs,” said Union Springs Mayor Saint James.
“They will be going into a very secure facility,” Schofield stated.
Concerned citizens like Pugh and local leaders say they don’t understand why the new patients won’t be brought here to the Bullock County Correctional Facility, a state prison equipped with mental health services.
“These people have been adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity and the people at the prison are, in fact, guilty and serving a criminal time in the prison system,” Schofield explained.
Pugh insists this is not about denying medical care for those with mental health challenges but more about finding peace of mind at the intersection of worry and faith. “I just don’t think this is the place,” Pugh said.
Schofield says the facility in Union Springs currently serves those who are in acute phases of mental illness.