We’d like to believe prisons are for criminals, mental health facilities are for people with mental illnesses, and the two never meet. Yet the reality is more complicated; our criminal justice system is overwhelmed by people with mental health issues.
Here’s how it works: When most people see a person acting erratically, they call 911. This means that people having a mental health crisis are more likely to be met by police than medical professionals.
Part of being a police officer is de-escalating situations. But police officers are not always adequately trained to do that when dealing with people who are mentally ill. They’re cops, not counselors, after all. So, two million such people are then booked into jails each year, where most don’t receive treatment.
A person living at home with a bipolar disorder doesn’t need permission to take medications that have been legally prescribed for them. Jail inmates, however, may have to go days without essential medication while they wait for a psychiatric evaluation. From jail, many of these people go into courtrooms—when what they need instead are medications, counseling, and mental health services.
If they’re convicted, prison isn’t kind either. Mentally ill inmates tend to stay longer in prison, in part because they sometimes can’t understand the rules. Unfortunately, releasing them doesn’t always help; many become homeless, pop up in emergency rooms, or get arrested again because they don’t have long-term support.
There are ways to better serve people with mental health issues at all levels of the criminal justice system. It starts with informed policing.
Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.