Confronted with people clearly in need of treatment and social services, law enforcement officers need a way to respond, because they know they’ll see them again. A new approach gaining traction across the country offers “a public health approach to better public safety.”
The 21st Century Cures Act approved yesterday contains provisions aimed at curbing the nation’s opioid epidemic including treatment programs and drug courts. It’s the second piece of legislation impacting criminal justice passed in the final days of this Congress.
A national coalition today asked the new Congress and President-elect to support a “comprehensive” plan for helping justice-involved individuals suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues. The proposal included federal aid for training cops and corrections officers, and continued Medicaid coverage after release from prison.
Students who are punished for behavioral problems by being suspended or expelled from school—as opposed to receiving mental health treatment and medication—are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system later in life, according to a study published in Criminology.
Incompetent defendants in Pennsylvania who sometimes wait for months in jail on minor charges, and others stuck indefinitely in forensic mental hospitals, may move quickly toward trials or long-term homes under a lawsuit settlement approved yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. A mentally ill person arrested for stealing three Peppermint Patties, as was one of the plaintiffs, “does not have to be sitting in a maximum security forensic hospital at $900 a day,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “It is a whole lot cheaper to provide him with the necessary support and care in the community than it is in a jail or mental hospital.” Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas said the settlement won't put violent defendants in communities, but will get some nonviolent people out of jammed mental hospitals by “making sure that they need to be in the forensic system, or they might be able to be served in another part of the system equally well or better.” The ACLU and Washington, D.C.-based law firm Arnold & Porter sued in October, claiming that incompetent defendants were languishing in jail awaiting transfers to the hospitals, while others sat in those hospitals for years.
If there’s anything both sides of the heated and polarizing gun debate may agree on, it’s the need to keep firearms out of the hands of people with serious mental illness. That is not the same as saying gun violence is a mental health issue, which has become a renewed area of contention since President Obama announced new actions this month to reduce gun violence, including increased funding for mental health treatment and enhanced background checks, CNN reports. Mental health advocates say media reports of mass shootings by disturbed individuals galvanize public attention and reinforce the impression that severe mental illness leads to violence. Studies over the past two decades show that the vast majority of people with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression, are never violent toward others. People with serious mental illness are three times more likely than those who are not mentally ill to commit violent acts again themselves or others, but that is still a very small number of people, about 2.9 percent of people with serious mental illness within a year.
Before issuing thousands of permits each year to buy handguns, North Carolina county sheriffs go through an oft-futile exercise. Relying on a law allowing them to ensure gun owners are of “good moral character,” they submit applicants' names to large health care facilities seeking to learn whether anyone was suicidal or otherwise mentally unfit to own a pistol, McClatchy Newspapers reports. Under the 1968 U.S. Gun Control Act, the sheriffs are entitled to know whether an applicant is disqualified from gun owning by a court finding of mental illness, inability to manage one’s affairs or being a danger to himself and others. Except for those seeking concealed carry permits, who are required to release mental health information, sheriffs say the door is almost always slammed shut on disclosure of information. Most requests for mental health information are caught in a legal stalemate between law enforcement needs and health facilities' concerns about patient privacy, a key conflict in the national debate over how to stem a spate of mass killings.