Stop criminalizing the mentally ill

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Preventing The Criminalization Of Persons With Mental Illness:

Solutions And A Call To Action

National Dialogues on Behavioral Health

(see attached for conference materials)

Register at

November 8-11, 2015

Renaissance Arts Hotel

New Orleans, LA


2015 Conference Overview

The criminalization of persons with mental illness is not just a national tragedy that deserves greater attention but is a growing social problem that deserves solutions and a call to action. Half the number of the 500-600 persons killed each year by police has a mental illness. According to a report by the National Association of Sheriffs and the Treatment Advocacy Center, “Ten times more individuals with serious mental illness are residing in state prisons and county jails than in the state mental hospitals…” About 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental health condition. Instead of treatment, those living with severe mental illness are often subject to arrest and police violence.

The bottom line is that a huge amount of resources are being expended inappropriately, both on the criminal justice side as well as in behavioral health systems. Law enforcement officials are spending time in emergency rooms instead of maintaining law and order; in mental health systems, more resources such as psychiatric beds are being allocated to persons involved with the criminal justice system. That is, mental health systems are being criminalized. This not only has an impact on those persons involved with criminal justice but also on the larger population of persons with mental illness.

Several approaches are being implemented to address the issue, including: training of police, mental health deputies, screening in jails, outpatient commitment, court-ordered treatment, involvement and support for families, and provision of appropriate mental health treatment. The common factor across these interventions is that they tacitly accept the role of the criminal justice system as the “safety net” for persons with mental illness. This is unacceptable, and must stop.

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