Help can’t wait for imprisoned mentally ill

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From Equitas National Advisor Cheryl Roberts with The Greenburger Center.

From start to finish, the criminal justice system is no place to make treatment and housing decisions about the vast majority of people with serious mental illness.

Not only are defense attorneys, DAs and corrections officials not meant to make treatment decisions; jails and prisons are not equipped, nor should they be, to serve as treatment centers for serious psychological ailments.

It is both past time and the perfect time for a new direction.

Florida and Colorado are doing just that. Increasingly, courts in these states are not subjecting defendants to an awful cycle of treating them so that a judge will decide they are sane enough to stand trial, then locking them up in circumstances that worsen their already severe mental health conditions. Instead, they are transferring people directly to civil court proceedings that engage the mental health system.

Except for those who are truly dangerous to society, if the driving force behind a crime is a symptom of untreated serious mental illness, no one should feel good about creating psychiatric units within new city jails or “residential treatment facilities” in prisons, or think that this is good policy or progress. It’s neither.

We need more supportive housing and secure residential treatment facilities that are managed by mental health and not criminal justice professionals. Our current system is plainly unjust.

Roberts is executive director of the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice.

Published by NY Daily News. Read the full article here.

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