Justice For People With Mental Health Issues
We’ve all seen it: people wandering the streets who seem to be under the influence of drugs, or who are surely suffering from mental health problems. Oftentimes these people frighten other citizens, and the police are called. They are arrested, and wind up behind bars. They, and others with a variety of mental health challenges, slowly begin to fill our jails and prisons. Over 50 percent of the people in prisons and more than 65 percent of those in jails suffer from mental health problems. Is there a better way to address the problem?
The fact is, incarcerated individuals who suffer from mental health issues generally have previous convictions and tend to serve longer sentences than do their counterparts without such issues. That is according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Surely we can all agree that mental health issues tend to worsen without proper treatment. That, in turn, leads to further problems with the criminal justice system. Thus, a number of states are working to train police to handle individuals who suffer from these conditions in better ways, and to create diversion programs for those who need better access to mental health services.
A Closer Look
Police are the first on the scene of altercations involving individuals who suffer from mental health issues in many cases. So states are developing Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT’s) to more successfully assess and de-escalation crisis situations. The result is fewer arrests, access to diversion programs for addicted and/or mentally ill individuals, and fewer injuries to police and citizens alike. In a collaborative effort, police and CIT members are able to positively impact communities by reducing severe outcomes involving the mentally ill. By utilizing precise assessment, negotiation, and interview skills, and by identifying the effects of psychotropic drugs, even suicidal individuals often have positive interactions with these teams, and that can be lifesaving.
Pre-arrest interventions have been very successful, but that’s just the beginning. Diversion programs, in lieu of incarceration, give offenders the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions while receiving the help they need. They often can have their records expunged in time. Studies show that individuals who have these opportunities are re-arrested at lower rates and spend less time behind bars.
Missouri is Making Progress
The future looks bright for mental health interventions in Missouri. The CIT programs in the state are designed to develop sustainable and effective strategies to address individuals in crisis. Law enforcement is teaming up with mental and behavioral health specialists in an effort to:
- Develop curriculum to be used statewide;
- Provide evaluation tools and training;
- Collect data;
- Provide services to individuals and families in need.
Law enforcement personnel are learning about myriad topics, including de-escalation, suicide , terrorist threats, hoarding, intellectual disabilities, personality disorders and homelessness, among others. Alternative courts designed to deal with the specific needs of individuals with mental health or drug issues provide a new route for people who need help, in addition to needing to pay a debt to society. By exposing people to the services that can help them to get back on their feet, all stakeholders benefit, from the individuals themselves and the communities in which they live to the law enforcement community, to the overcrowded jails in the state.
Your Legal Advocate
At Courtney & Mills our experienced Springfield criminal defense attorneys assist individuals and their families when mental health issues contribute to involvement with the criminal justice system. To discuss your situation, schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.