Jail Diversion For Mentally Ill Makes Sense, But Lacks Funds

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Behavioral health providers agree that following detention or arrest, the best place for many people with mental illness or addictions is in community treatment, not in jail or prison. Not only is it good public policy from a health perspective, but it saves money for the counties and states, since treatment in the community is far less costly than incarceration.

Most people who end up in jail who have mental illness are not dangerous and have not committed any violent crime, said Polzin. Two of every three people with a mental illness who end up in jail “are there because they have decompensated in some way, become a nuisance, trespassed, done this or that which is not socially acceptable,” said Polzin. “They commit a minor misdemeanor offense, and then they sit in jail because they are not able to post bond.”

Those with a mental illness who are fortunate enough to have benefits such as Medicaid or SSI find those benefits are suspended or terminated by federal law when they enter incarceration, even before trial when they are presumed innocent. Thus, he explains, the costs for any mental health treatment they receive – as well as the jail costs – become ‘100-percent county costs,’ he said, noting that in most cases, counties run the most of the nation’s jails. He called the costs of such treatment “a huge burden for counties.”

by Alison Knopf, Behavioral Healthcare

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