Text Size:

Building Alliances Between Mental Health and Criminal Justice System

MEDIA ADVISORY Contact: Jim McManus Jim@sloweymcmanus.com (617) 523-0038

National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Association for Behavioral Healthcare

Call for expansion of criminal justice diversion for people with mental illness

Report highlights social, economic benefits of diversion programs

Boston, February 2, 2012 – The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Massachusetts) and the Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH) today called on the state to “decriminalize mental illness” and update behavioral health services in order to divert individuals struggling with mental illness away from the criminal justice system.

At a State House press conference to present a report on the intersection of the mental health and criminal justice systems, the two groups urged lawmakers to adopt a series of recommendations that will steer individuals struggling with mental illness away from the criminal justice system.

“Mental illness is not a crime, and it’s time we stopped treating it that way,” said former State Senator Robert A. Antonioni of Leominster, who is a board member at NAMI Massachusetts. “The Legislature needs to embrace changes to the system that will prevent pointless charges being brought against people who need treatment rather than a jail cell.”

“Building Alliances between the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Systems to Prevent Unnecessary Arrests” was prepared by DMA Health Strategies and funded by The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts. The report highlights several approaches for statewide implementation of programs aimed at preventing individuals living with mental illness from becoming involved with the criminal justice system.

“Police officers know first-hand that jail is the wrong place for many people who get arrested,” said Deputy Police Chief Craig Davis of Framingham. “We need more cooperation between the mental health and criminal justice systems to make sure people get the help they need.”

Among the report’s recommendations: increase funding for local jail diversion collaborations and specialized police training; expand court diversion options; expand Emergency Service Programs, community-based psychiatric intervention that keeps people out of emergency rooms and jails; and maintain a strong mental health services network.

“This report, combined with the daily challenges of our partners in law enforcement and those dealing with mental health issues, only increases the urgency of strengthening the linkages between our criminal justice and mental health systems in a person-centered, cost-effective approach,” said state Sen. John F. Keenan (D-Quincy). “Here in Massachusetts, we’ve already built the framework for accomplishing these goals; now it’s time to redouble our efforts to achieve them.”

Several legislators and community leaders attended in support of the call for the development of more diversion options across the state. Speakers included former State Senator Robert Antonioni, Deputy Chief Davis, Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse Co- Chairs Senator John Keenan and Representative Liz Malia, Committee member Representative James O’Day, Laurie Martinelli, Executive Director of NAMI Massachusetts, and Vic DiGravio, President/CEO of ABH.

“Diversion programs not only work but they save money and we must continue to invest in them,” said state Representative Liz Malia (D-Boston).

According to the report, approximately 42% of jail inmates across the state struggle with a mental illness. With appropriate treatment and services, the state will not only succeed in diverting people with mental illness from becoming involved with the criminal justice system, but will also dramatically lower the growing costs straining the state’s correctional system. Currently, some Massachusetts communities have implemented significant efforts to divert people with mental illness from the criminal justice system. However, without a unified statewide strategy these programs are not sustainable.

About the National Alliance for Mental Illness

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass) is a nonprofit grassroots education, support and advocacy organization. Founded in 1982 and obtaining 501(c) (3) status in 1999, the state’s voice on mental illness, NAMI Mass, with 21 local affiliates and over 2,500 members is comprised of individuals with mental illness, family members and others in the mental health community.

Association for Behavioral Healthcare

For over 30 years, the Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH) has been the leading advocacy organization in Massachusetts’ mental health and substance abuse arena. Fighting for high-quality, community-based care for families and individuals with mental illness, addiction and substance-use disorders, ABH provides leadership and statewide coordination on important public policy, financing, preferred clinical models and quality assurance issues.

Building Alliances Between Mental Health and Criminal Justice System (PDF)   Position Paper

Representative Jim O’Day Speaks at ABH & NAMI Press Conference http://youtu.be/Ea18NjRZs74

Representative Liz Malia speaks at ABH & NAMI press conference http://youtu.be/NYBkdRe5cIk

Senator John Keenan speaks at ABH & NAMI Press Conference http://youtu.be/Ce8geHUI3xU

Framingham Deputy Police Chief Speaks at ABH and NAMI Position Paper Press Conference http://youtu.be/ZiWSdHb5FjU

 

PRESS COVERAGE:

Advocates of Mentally Ill Want More Training for Boston Police – WGBH

Study: Police need more training for dealing with mentally ill - Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Jail inmates suffer from mental illness – OnPolitix 22 News WWLP.COM

Mentally ill need treatment, not jail – OnPolitix 22 News WWLP.COM