In a recent editorial The Washington Post noted support of county efforts to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness who are serving time in jail rather than getting the treatment that they really need. While the editorial focuses on a pilot program in Fairfax County, as previously reported on Conduit Street the need for change is a sentiment shared by counties across the nation.
The editorial states:
The county has a plan to establish a fledgling program, starting Jan. 1, to divert nonviolent people who have mental illness to a county-run crisis center in Merrifield. Rather than jailing them, police officers, trained to detect the signs of mental health crises, would be able to hand them off to a team of professional staff at the center for evaluation and formulation of a treatment plan.
That sounds simple enough; in fact it will require several million dollars just to inaugurate what amounts to a pilot program — money that would go to training hundreds of cops and sheriff’s deputies as well as to providing the staff to run the center 16 hours a day. At a guess, hundreds, and quite possibly a few thousand, people with mental illness could avoid incarceration annually. Instead they would be channeled into state and private hospitals, facilities and treatment programs, including ones monitored by the courts.The advantages of such a system are many. One would be better outcomes for mentally ill individuals for whom jail is just a revolving door to trouble. Another would be cost-saving for the county, which could more efficiently deploy police officers and others whose time is now too often monopolized tending to crisis for which they lack adequate training.
Related coverage on Conduit Street: Over 100 Counties Support Stepping Up