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Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training for First Responder

Op-Ed by Guy Beales, President of NAMI Massachusetts appears in the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise November 13, 2011 Training aims to keep mentally ill out of jails

Op Ed – Training aims to keep mentally ill out of jails – Sentinel, 2011 Nov. 13 (PDF)

Katina Caraganis’s article, “First responders: More training needed for those handling calls involving mentally ill” (Sentinel, October 23), highlights a longstanding problem for first responders:  they frequently encounter highly volatile situations for which they feel inadequately prepared.

For many communities across the country, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training has made a substantial difference in preparing police officers to respond to mental health crisis situations.  At the recent state convention of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Massachusetts at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Leominster, Major Sam Cochran (ret.) provided an overview of CIT.

Cochran is a leading advocate of the “Memphis Model” of pre-arrest jail diversion for those in a mental illness crisis.  CIT was developed in response to an incident in which police officers shot and killed a mentally ill individual.

CIT provides law enforcement-based crisis intervention training for helping individuals with mental illness.  In addition, CIT works in partnership with the mental health care system to provide services that are friendly to the individuals with mental illness, family members, and the police officers.

As a result, additional training on how to respond to someone with mental illness reduces the risk of injuries to officers, avoids unnecessary arrests, directs individuals with mental illnesses to appropriate treatment, increases public safety, and lowers costs to taxpayers.

This last point merits further examination.  As Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis stated, about 25 percent of the inmates at the Worcester House of Correction are taking psychiatric medications and the prison spends $5 million on inmate medical expenses.  According to a recent study by the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), “there are now more than three times more seriously mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals.”  In other words, “America’s jails and prisons have become our new mental hospitals.”

This situation results in enormous costs since offenders with mental illnesses are “frequent flyers” – that is, they experience high rates of recidivism – and their imprisonment costs more than prisoners without mental illnesses.

In addition, the TAC report notes, mentally ill inmates stay longer in jail; are more likely to commit suicide; may be subject to abuse; and, because of sometimes impaired judgment, may be disruptive and/or destructive.

The costs of incarceration, financial and human, are high.  So, too, are costs resulting from injuries to officers: medical expenses, leave for recuperation, and replacement until an officer returns to duty.  To these, one might add the cost of court appearances and reports following an arrest.

Article: Crisis Intervention Focus of Discussion http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/local/ci_19125753

Article: First responders: More training needed for those handling calls involving mentally ill http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/ci_19176634?source=most_viewed