As a student of the criminal mind, I know there are some individuals who need to be placed in prison for the safety of society. They are sociopaths who know that committing rape or murder is wrong, but simply do not care. They are the child predators whose compulsion and tendency to be repeat offenders regardless of intervention must mean they are locked away from the most innocent among us.
What about the instances, though, when a man or woman is struggling with mental illness and commits less serious criminal behavior that could be treated with proper medical and psychiatric care? Usually, these offenders are placed into jail cells with the rest of the criminal population. The police force in San Antonio, Texas recently started taking a different approach and its success is gaining national attention.
San Antonio now requires all of its officers to complete forty hours of Crisis Intervention Training, and also prepares some members of its force to specialize in mental health issues. When a suspect is approached and found to have a psychological problem, be it addiction or schizophrenia (often both) or a series of other possibilities that could result in harm to self or others, officers have the option of taking the individual to a facility called the Restoration Center. Once there, the offender can receive necessary medical and detox help and the police can complete their paperwork on site and get back out on the streets, keeping the community even safer.
The initiative has saved the city millions of dollars. Nationwide, there are ten times as many people with mental issues in jail as in hospitals, costing the taxpayers a lot of money, but San Antonio is now under capacity in its prison system. This program also helps people who otherwise would move in and out the system repeatedly, never getting the help they need.
As other cities learn more about the successes in San Antonio and implement similar programs in their areas, I look forward to seeing the impact such considerations for the mental health of those we quickly dismiss will have on our communities.
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