Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Criminalizing mental illness

In Putnam County, Tennessee, a crisis stabilization unit (CSU) was opened on April 30. Since its opening county law enforcement officers have seen a drop in the amount of time deputies are spending transporting people with mental illnesses to facilities in other cities.

Excellent; but deputies are still spending an inordinate amount of time driving people to mental health facilities. In fact Putnam County Sheriff, David Andrews has two deputies designated for mental health transports.

So far this year, Putnam deputies have made 319 mental health transports, compared to a total of 478 last year.

If one or two deputies transports a mental health patient to Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute in Chattanooga, those officers are off patrol in Putnam County between five and six hours, according to Sheriff Andrews.

The CSU is a great start to getting people treatment, and relieving the burden of law enforcement acting as mental health professionals. But – the new CSU only takes voluntary patients. People who won’t volunteer for treatment, who are aggressive or violent still have to be treated elsewhere, and that means law enforcement are charged with transporting them.

"I think there's got to be a better way to do this, unless they come out of the jail, a person who has some reason to be transported to a mental health hospital hasn't broken any law in many cases," Sheriff Andrews said. "It criminalizes mental illness to put a mental health patient in the back of a patrol car."

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