De-Criminalizing Mental Illness: Is Prison Downsizing a Solution?
Community Care: Net Cost or Savings?
NAMI has long advocated against the unnecessary ‘criminalization’ of youth and adults living with serious mental illnesses. We believe that little can be gained from incarcerating non-violent offenders with serious mental illnesses who need treatment, not punishment. However, the potential release of large numbers of individuals with serious mental illnesses into their home communities presents a great potential challenge for the state and its 58 counties. California has a budget deficit of approximately $20 billion and cuts in spending are impacting adversely on the availability of mental health services in the counties. Most of these counties are having difficulty serving those individuals with serious mental illnesses they are currently responsible for. Demands on some of these counties could increase as inmates are discharged and come home.
Still, as my mother has always reminded me, ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’ California’s Department of Corrections stands to save millions of dollars due to lower inmate populations, lower health and mental health treatment needs and the increased efficiency resulting from less overcrowding. Some of this money should go into beefing up the capacity of counties to provide mental health treatment and services to discharged inmates. Additionally, California should consider specialized medical parole programs with personnel trained to manage the needs of parolees with severe mental illness.
And, there is ample evidence that the provision of quality mental health and substance abuse treatment sharply reduces criminal recidivism and thus the burdens on correctional systems. California need only look at its experience with the Assembly Bill (AB) 34/2034 program, which demonstrated a decrease in homelessness and incarcerations while reflecting an increase in the ability of consumers to live independently, for evidence.