Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Seeking a proactive approach

Officers in Yakima County, Washington appear to have grown tired of taking people with mental illness to jail, and acting as mental health workers. According to Rick Weaver, chief executive officer for Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health:

"There's a whole layer of people out there who commit a nuisance offense or are panhandling. They are mentally ill. Everyone knows it but the legal wraps around involuntary treatment don't qualify them."

Yakima police chief echoed the sentiments and said when his patrol officers encounter a person with mental instability, they have no choice but to take the person to jail.

"If we had a program that gives us an option other than jail and help reduce the
jail population, that is a big draw," he said.

Washington State law allows for assisted outpatient treatment (called a “less restrictive alternative” or an “LRA”). It also has a good mental health treatment standard. Why does the state fail to use them to help people before they fall into the criminal justice system?

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