State Rep. Jeremy Gray talks about mental health, prison reform at town hall meeting

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Photo by Robert Noles/Opelika Observer

By Will Fairless
For the Opelika Observer

Last Thursday in the Greater Peace Family Life Center in Opelika, State Rep. Jeremy Gray held a legislative town hall to address the concerns of the citizens of Lee County in attendance.
Rep. Pebblin Warren had planned to attend, but an unforeseen conflict left Gray to run the town hall himself.
Gray began by emphasizing the issue of mental health and the attention the state will be giving it.
“For the first time in a long time, state dollars, coming out of the state fund, will be going toward mental health,” Gray said. The goal of that funding is to have a mental health professional in every public school system in Alabama.
Gray later added that a focus on mental health would help alleviate the problems he sees in the state’s prisons (namely overcrowding leading to poor living conditions). He explained that addressing mental health problems early in people’s lives will prevent some of them from ever going to prison in the first place and getting caught in a vicious cycle that leads them back to a cell. “What if someone has a mental health issue or drug [issue]? They go to mental health court,” Gray said, “and they never go to jail in the first place. Once you’re in the system, it’s hard to get out.”
That reform includes retroactively shortening prisoners’ sentences to reflect new laws with regard to the possession of marijuana or crack cocaine. “At this point, I would be strongly against building more prisons, especially before we address reform,” Gray said.
An issue that was top of mind for several of the attendees of Thursday’s town hall was a proposition for a rock quarry to be located within two miles of Saugahatchee Lake. CreekWood Resources has applied for permits for the proposed granite quarry. Gray would not give a definitive statement on the proposition as he explained it is in the very early stages. However, a statement was made by the approximately 50 in attendance, most of whom signed a petition opposing the quarry.
Gray also addressed the issue of a similarly infant proposal by the Poarch Creek for a casino (of which his present constituents were in favor), responded to a concern about more relaxed gun control laws and stated his desire for environmental responsibility by the state. “I can tell you, we’re not doing much,” Gray said, “we’re not doing much from a state point of view, and we’re not doing much as citizens. We recycle at a very low rate.”

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