CRIMINALIZATION OF MENTAL ILLNESS
Many people with disabilities – especially those with mental illness and traumatic brain injuries – are unable to obtain treatment, services and housing, and end up homeless, hospitalized, in jail or prison. Once in jail or prison, they can languish for weeks or even months awaiting assessment of their ability to stand trial, or waiting for a bed in the state hospital, where they can have their competence restored.
The state recently settled a lawsuit – “Trueblood” – that will reduce the time people with disabilities spend in jail awaiting assessment. The judge in the case now requires assessment of competency to stand trial within two weeks, and where appropriate, hospitalization to restore competency to stand trial within a week.
However, the appropriate response to the “criminalization of mental illness” isn’t just to reduce the amount of time people with mental illness spend in jail – the answer is to provide the treatment and support to keep people out of the criminal justice system in the first place. The settlement requires the state to create additional services to divert people to treatment. In order to meet the terms of the Trueblood settlement, the Legislature will need to appropriate millions of dollars, primarily to the mental health system.