Past Releases: Mentally Ill Offenders Don't Belong In Jails
Community Mental Health Organizations Divert Individuals with Mental Health Problems from Jail to Treatment and Support
Too many mentally ill offenders find themselves in jail because they are unable to receive treatment for their mental illness or because community mental health centers are unavailable to them. It is fiscally and morally irresponsible to put these mentally ill offenders in jail when they can function normally in society with the proper care and treatment. The National Council proposes three key areas of intervention to prevent mentally ill offenders from being arrested, diverting them to appropriate treatment centers, and discharging them with proper mental health services.
To schedule interviews with national experts on mental health and justice system issues, providers who operate community-based jail diversion programs, and individuals who have been diverted from jail to treatment, please contact Communications@thenationalcouncil.org or 301.984.6200, ext. 228.
Rockville, MD-September 7, 2006—A report released yesterday by the United States Department of Justice shows that more than half of all people in prison and jail have a mental health problem. However, only one out of four jailed individuals with a mental health problem is incarcerated for a violent offense.
“We are paying top dollar to arrest and incarcerate people who could be living productive lives in the community — it’s fiscally irresponsible and morally indefensible,” said Tammy Seltzer, director of state policy for the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.
Many of those who fill local jails have been sentenced for petty, non-violent offenses including public drunkenness, vagrancy, trespassing and even suicide attempts. Others are in jail simply because they lack access to or are unable to pay for mental health services.
“We know how to prevent the inappropriate incarceration of people with serious mental illnesses, but not enough resources are being directed to what works,” asserted Seltzer. She explained that several community mental health organizations offer innovative and effective programs to divert individuals with mental disorders who come in contact with the justice system into more appropriate community-based treatment and support services. These community interventions have produced impressive and cost-effective results. The National Council calls for increased federal and state resources to replicate and expand community-based jail diversion programs.
The National Council and community providers have identified three key areas of intervention to reduce the prevalence of mental illness in our prisons and jails
The Bexar County Jail Diversion Program in San Antonio, Texas, which was established by the county mental health authority, addresses all three key intervention areas. In four years, the program has diverted more than 4,000 people with mental illnesses from incarceration to treatment, saving the county an estimated $5 million annually.
“Persons with mental illnesses don’t need to be in jail simply because there is nowhere else for them to go, said Leon Evans, executive director of the Center for Healthcare Services, which runs the Bexar County Jail Diversion Program. “Our program ensures that all those in need have access to quality care.”
Paul Eisenhauer, who suffers from schizophrenia, bears testimony to the success of programs like those in Bexar County. Frequently arrested for minor offenses, some during psychotic episodes, Eisenhauer was once taken to the Bexar County Jail Diversion Program’s crisis care unit, where he started getting treatment and support. Today, Eisenhauer lives in the community and trains the county’s police officers on how to handle offenders with schizophrenia.
The Bexar County program is just one example of effective jail diversion initiatives launched by community mental health centers. The National Council calls on Congress and the states to adequately fund similar programs across the country to reduce the prevalence of mental illness in our jails and prisons.
The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) association representing 1,300 mental health and addictions treatment and rehabilitation organizations that serve nearly six million adults, children, and families in communities across America.