Letter: Jail reform editorial was right on
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Thank you for the thoughtful editorial urging jail officials and society in general to understand mental-health issues (Aug. 21 editorial, "Inmates must be protected: Local jail officials step up efforts to understand mental health issues").
At NAMI Clark County, the local affiliate of National Alliance on Mental Illness, where I am a director, we are working to do just that. We mental-health experts couldn't agree more that mentally ill individuals are not well served, nor is society at large, through incarcerating them.
An Aug. 21 CNN report, "Navigating the mentally ill away from jail," describes a program in Savannah, Ga., that addresses this problem. The program, Opening Doors to Recovery, spearheaded by NAMI, aims to "stop prisons, jails and hospitals from becoming dumping grounds for the mentally ill."
The program is changing minds by showing state leaders "the benefits of putting state money into this front-end program rather than funding prisons and hospitals," a much more costly solution.
Opening Doors to Recovery has 100 participants so far. Peer navigators assigned to each participant help with doctors appointments, safe housing and medication.
If incarcerated, mentally ill people are red-flagged and picked up at the jail by their navigator. Initial financial results show clear savings to the public.
The local police spokesman observes, "Our jails and prisons are the largest mental-health institutions in the nation. There has to be an alternative to hospitalization or jail."
Ann T. Donnelly