A three-year study of a Florida mental health court program found that the rate of recidivism dropped “significantly” after participants completed the court-ordered treatment program that the court offered as an alternative to jail.
The study’s authors, Julie Costopoulos and Bethany Wellman of the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) suggested that the findings demonstrate the effectiveness of collaborative courts in helping end the “revolving door” which cycles many mentally troubled individuals between jail and the streets:
“The ‘revolving door’ has been exhaustive of institutional resources, resulting in such a poor system of treatment that many argue that the system …treats offenders with mental health challenges to the extent that recidivism is inevitable,”
The study followed 118 participants in an unidentified Florida mental health court. Three months after release, 90% had not been rearrested. After six months, the number dropped to 81% remaining free of any charges; and three years after release, 54% had not recidivated.
Perhaps almost as significant, the study found that participants were typically re-arrested for much lesser offenses than those which originally sent them to the mental health court.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the LA Police Protective League has joined more than a dozen other police unions, including those in New York, San Jose and Chicago, asking for federal funding for crisis-intervention training, less-lethal devices and officers who team up with mental health professionals to respond to emergency calls. The proposal, “Compassionate and Accountable Responses for Everyone,” will be formally unveiled at a news conference Thursday morning in New York. Most police department already offer some training in how to appropriately respond to someone who has mental health issues — LAPD officers receive 15 hours of training specific to mental health while in the academy — but the issue continues to draw attention, particularly after several high-profile police shootings of people who were diagnosed with mental illnesses. In New York, for example, a police sergeant was charged with second-degree murder after fatally shooting a mentally ill woman who had a baseball bat.
Louis Dekmar, the police chief in LaGrange, Ga., and first vice president of the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, commented: “We’ve taken what should be a public health issue and we’ve turned it into a criminal issue. And the sad commentary is, of the 900 and some fatal police shootings a year, about 25% are affected by mental illness.”
In Los Angeles, four of the 28 people struck by police gunfire in 2016 showed signs of mental illness, according to LAPD data. The previous year, nearly a third of the 38 people shot by police were perceived to be mentally ill.
In Seattle, a pregnant woman with mental health issues was shot and killed by police after calling to report an attempted burglary, then “displaying” a knife when the police arrived.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the Supreme Court agreed with a convicted murderer held on Alabama’s death row for three decades who argued he was entitled to an expert independent from prosecutors to gauge his mental health and possibly help him avoid execution.
The justices ruled 5-4 in favor of inmate James McWilliams, who was convicted of the 1984 rape and murder of a convenience store clerk in Tuscaloosa. It is the third recent case in which the Court has ruled in favor of a convicted inmate on death row, all involving African-Americans, a fact that civil rights advocates say points to problems in America’s criminal justice system that disproportionately affect minorities.
A new law in Texas, the “Sandra Bland Act” , requires jailers to immediately determine whether inmates suffer from mental illness and divert those who do to a mental health facility. The law is named after the Sandra Bland, who in 2015 was found dead in a Waller County jail cell after she was pulled over by a state trooper for a routine traffic stop, then arrested and jailed when the officer said she had become “uncooperative.” Her death was ruled a suicide, and later it became clear that Bland might have suffered from depression and had a history of mental health issues.
Or, who are you calling crazy? Congress votes down common-sense regulations requiring background checks for people with mental health diagnoses for which they are receiving SSI. The House by a 235-180 vote on Thursday eliminated regulations that required the Social Security Administration to report people who receive disability benefits and have a mental health condition to the FBI’s background check system. The NRA and other critics of the rule objected that the regulation could unnecessarily interfere with the Second Amendment rights of people with minor mental health issues such as eating disorders or mental disorders that prevent them from managing their own finances. That position begs the question of how to keep guns away from people with mental disorders like schizophrenia and severe anxiety.