NAMI News

People in Crisis Deserve Help, Not Handcuffs

2/24/2021

Daniel Prude. Walter Wallace Jr. Patrick Warren Sr. These are just some of the people with mental illness who died in the hands of police officers in the last year. Nearly 1 in 4 people shot and killed by police officers from 2015-2020 had a mental health condition. The problem is clear: law enforcement departments are not equipped to respond to a mental health crisis. A mental health crisis deserves a mental health response.

Instead of supporting people with mental illness with a properly resourced mental health care system, we’ve simply let our justice system respond for far too long. The result? About 2 million times a year, people with serious mental illness are booked into our jails. Approximately 2 in 5 people who are incarcerated have a history of mental illness. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people held in local jails, and an estimated 4,000 people with serious mental illness are held in solitary confinement, proven to exacerbate their illness. 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health condition — they’re also 10 times more likely to suffer from psychosis than youth outside the system.

Fortunately, there are real solutions to reducing justice system responses to people with mental illness. That’s why we are hosting an online event series titled “Help Not Handcuffs: Addressing Mental Health Crises With Comprehensive Community Responses.” In the series, experts across the country will present, discuss and explore strategies for diverting people with mental illness away from the justice system and toward the care they need and deserve. This multi-part series will address the history of mental health and the justice system, past and present legislative efforts, several existing jail diversion models, and what we can expect and strive for through programs like these in the future.

Imagine if the calls for help for Daniel Prude, Walter Wallace Jr., or Patrick Warren Sr., were met by behavioral health professionals instead of armed police? People with mental health conditions deserve help, not handcuffs. There is so much left to be done, but the programs our series will examine are a sign that progress is finally being made on a local, state and national level to ensure a mental health response to mental health crises.