Mentally ill Montanans continue to clog the state’s jails, prisons and courts because there is not enough money or facilities to treat them elsewhere, reports the Billings Gazette. Experts, from county sheriffs to the head of the state mental hospital, told a legislative hearing that said law enforcement has become the mental-health treatment facility of last resort, driving up costs and putting the mentally ill and the officers who deal with them in no-win situations.
The mentally ill often are arrested in a crisis that might have been prevented if there were more money for mental-health treatment outside the criminal justice system, experts said. Difficulties start long before a mentally ill person commits a crime. Private treatment is costly, said Leslie Halligan, an assistant county attorney from Missoula; some mentally ill people have hard time holding a job, especially if they are not in treatment and taking medicine. Many hospitals have closed their mental health wings, meaning mentally ill people in crisis often end up back on the streets or in the back of a squad car. When mentally ill people under arrest cannot be safely housed in county jails, they end up in hospitals, on the county dime. In Missoula, such treatment costs the county $3,000 a day, money that might be spent treating people before they get into the criminal justice system.