Jailing people with mental illness is a national problem. The solutions are local.

There are countless problems in this world that lack ready solutions.

Jailing so many people with mental illness is not one of them.

While it’s a national problem, addressing mental illness in America’s jails requires local people finding on-the-ground solutions.

Progress requires teamwork among judges, police, sheriffs, mental health workers, probation officers and others who affect the lives of people with mental illness inside and outside the criminal justice system.

The solutions come in four broad areas:

  • Keep people with mental illness out of the criminal justice system altogether by treating them before they commit crimes or have a crisis.
  • If someone who is clearly mentally ill commits petty theft or another misdemeanor, get the offender help rather than sending him or her to jail.
  • For those jailed, get them treatment behind bars and, just as important, after they are released.
  • If someone with mental illness dies in jail, hold both the system and staff members accountable for mistakes and maltreatment to prevent the next tragedy and spur improvements.

A 2013 study published in a journal from the American Psychiatric Association looked at the cases of 25,000 adults who were served by Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services during 2006 and 2007. All had been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder – two of the most common severe types of mental illness.

The study is unique because researchers were able to gather information about individuals from across the state’s health care and law enforcement systems – systems that typically aren’t connected.

It found that about one in four of the adults were involved with the criminal justice system during that two-year period. The more than 18,000 people who avoided incarceration cost Connecticut roughly $25,000 per person. The nearly 7,000 people who wound up in trouble with the law cost $49,000 per person – almost double the amount.

Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine and one of the authors of the Connecticut study, says that people across the political spectrum see the value of reform for different reasons.

“People on the right say, ‘This is a failed expensive government program. We need to stop wasting so much money on this,’ ” he said. “And people on the left say, ‘This is inhumane to lock up a whole generation of people. Too many wasted lives. We need to take care of people in the community and being in prison or jail is not a place for sick people.’ … There’s some common real estate.”

From The Virginian-Pilot.

Read the full article here.

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