In the last thirty years, the responsibility for managing situations that result from people with mental illnesses has fallen to the police. Mostly, this situation leads to the mentally ill being sent to jail rather than receiving treatment. However, that trend might be changing with the help of some new programs.
In February, at the Mental Health Court Seminar, the state of the current system of jail over treatment and Florida’s response to it was a central topic. The highlight of the show was one judge working to build a facility that will help mentally ill patients move forward to a better life. It is being touted as an alternative to incarceration for such cases.
How is mental illness policed?
The simple fact of the new initiative might be confusing to some, due to the surprising role of police in mental health service. As things stand police are more than just frontline actors, they serve as mental health professionals, but without enough training to do more than act as a band-aid. This causes many issues such as:
- Alcoholics or drug addicts are often arrested and placed in prisons rather than treatment centers
- Mentally ill people are more often homeless, and police are responsible for confronting or removing them when problems arise
- People with mental illness also suffer from forms of abuse more regularly than anyone else and are discouraged from seeking police assistance
It is not the fault of the police that confronting mental illness issues have been laid at their feet. Programs aiding Americans in real need were ended, leaving those most in need of help left out in the cold. This lead to safety concerns, that forced the police to respond.
Providing help, not bars
The first step in reforming the process that sees mentally unstable people as criminals must come from the top. The actions of these judges and Florida’s criminal justice system is a good sign of that shift. For now, however, the families of people with real mental problems still need a strong attorney to protect their loved ones rights.