The Mental Health Police Squad
the MPR take:
In the United States, jails hold 10 times as many individuals with serious mental illnesses compared to state hospitals. San Antonio, TX has developed a novel program to assist sending citizens with mental health issues to treatment, rather than jail. When the Bexar County jail became overcrowded, mainly with individuals with serious mental illnesses, the state threatened to impose fines. The police, county jail, mental health department, criminal courts, hospitals, and homeless programs all worked together to identify citizens at risk of harming themselves or others due to mental illness (particularly psychosis). Police officers were required to take a 40-hour course on how to handle mental health emergencies. Prior to the program, individuals were often arrested for minor misdemeanor offenses such as disturbing the peace or taken to the ER, where the average wait time for triage was 12–14 hours. Now, a separate 16-bed psychiatric facility with a medical clinic and a “sobering room” allows officers to drop off charges for psychiatric and medical assessments without jail time or long waits in the ER. The jails are now under capacity and the program has resulted in an estimated $50 million savings over five years.
In San Antonio, the police, courts, and healthcare systems are working together to treat, rather than jail, people with mental illness. It's almost 4 p.m., and Officers Ernest Stevens and Ned Bandoske have been driving around town in their black unmarked SUV since early this morning. “You're Mason?” asks Bandoske.
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