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Mental Illness Requires Treatment, Not Incarceration

Creating Inmates Is Costly and Solves Nothing


California State Correctional facilities are over capacity with inmates, many of whom would benefit from treatment as opposed to incarceration. Their crimes are typically associated with chronic mental illness, which, left untreated, means these individuals will continue to spin through the revolving door of jailing the mentally ill.

The State of California reports that 45 percent of its state inmate population suffers from mental illness, and inmates with mental illness tend to receive longer sentences than their counterparts. This equates to higher costs to taxpayers for incarceration.

At one time in our history, the states were afforded institutions specifically for the mentally ill population, but after the passage of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act in 1967, local communities were tasked with providing the services necessary for the treatment of newly released persons who would have been housed in state mental health facilities.

Unfortunately, there was an appalling lack of services at the local level, and communities soon began to see their jails swell with the population that no longer had treatment options. This gap in supportive services for treatment of the mentally ill continues at a great cost to families and communities and their fiscal responsibilities.

Law enforcement and jail and prison staffs are woefully uneducated about mental illness, and their lack of training can create injurious situations for themselves as well as inmates. Many veterans suffering from PTSD (post–traumatic stress disorder) would benefit from separate mental health courts tailored to their need for treatment.

Current legislation up for review is HR 401, The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013, or JMHCA. This legislation has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support and is likely to receive a full vote in the Senate and then move to a vote in the House. The JMHCA reauthorizes The Mentally Ill Treatment and Crime Reduction Act, or MIOTCRA.

MIOTCRA is a preexisting act that allocated federal grant monies to benefit local programs that provide treatment in communities as well as education for law enforcement personnel. It also supported separate mental health courts that take into account the specific nature of an offender’s mental illness in relation to their crime, and weigh treatment options to determine if a costly, long period of incarceration is necessary.

The cost of incarceration in California is $51,000 per year per inmate. By contrast, the cost of treatment is $20,412 per individual for community housing and outpatient treatment.

The solution for our mentally ill population can be found in treatment, at a much lower cost to taxpayers. The passage of JMHCA and the reauthorization of MIOTCRA is essential to provide evidence-based treatment services for our mentally ill population.

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