Monday, May 14, 2007

It's time for treatment before the crime

An op-ed by Jeff Gerritt at the Detroit Free Press calls for treatment rather than incarceration for those with severe mental illnesses who have committed a crime. Before suggesting a solution, Gerritt delves into the sad history of abandoning the mentally ill. As he so explains:

A solution is long overdue. When Michigan closed most of its mental hospitals in the 1990s, the mentally ill didn't just disappear. They ended up on the street, in homeless shelters, and, increasingly, in jails and prisons. One sheriff called the state's jails and prisons the new asylums. Today, nearly 25% of Michigan's 51,000 prison inmates are mentally ill.

No doubt, putting mentally ill people in a freer, less costly setting was a good idea. But as institutions closed, the state failed to invest in community mental health programs. People with severe mental and emotional problems went untreated.

The op-ed goes on to support the creation of mental-health courts to steer people with mental illnesses who have committed a crime into treatment rather than jail or prison. This is a good step for those already in the forensic system.

An even better step? Using Michigan’s assisted outpatient treatment law – known as Kevin’s law- to get treatment BEFORE a crime is committed.

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