Opinion: Get Mentally Ill out of Jails and into Services

July 3, 2016

The Clarion Ledger

Tameka Tobias-Smith, executive director of NAMI Mississippi

Each year, 2 million Americans with mental illness land behind bars for minor crimes connected with untreated mental health or substance use conditions. Police who respond to a mental health crisis would rather get the person into care, but often have few alternatives to the county jail.

Yet few jails are equipped to treat serious mental illness or substance use. Without appropriate treatment, these inmates act out, add charges, spend more time in jail and don’t get services upon release. They are more likely to be unemployed, homeless, use costly emergency services and get re-arrested when the system fails them yet again.

Stepping Up is a nationwide initiative to address this critical problem. The Council of State Governments Justice Center, National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Foundation are working with county, state and community stakeholders to build on existing progress and meet local needs. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, brings the voice of individuals and families affected by mental illness to the table.

We can’t let this opportunity pass. NAMI MS challenges local and state leaders to work together, provide people with mental illness with needed services and return our jails to protecting public safety. It’s time to step up.

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