The Mentally Ill Should Not Be Stuck In Jails and Prisons – Much More Can Be Done Says Virginia Sollars, Author Of ‘And Some Will Triumph’

All over the country mentally ill people are being incarcerated in jails and prisons for minor crimes. Mentally ill people should not be incarcerated, and jails and prisons are generally not capable of providing what these people really need. A recent article on presented an in-depth, fact-filled overview of what is being done to keep the mentally ill out of jails and prisons. Here are some of the comments I made regarding the article:

“Crises Intervention Training (CIT) for police officers and deputies is great and sorely needed as most get a few hours of training during orientation and learn in the field,” Sollars stated. “Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES Units) are also a wonderful idea. According to claims by the Alameda Model in Ca. this has enabled 75% of psychiatric individuals to achieve enough stability to enable them to either go home or to a community based program within twenty-four hours. However, I have no statistics telling me how long they remain home, in these units, or out of jail. These programs lull us into believing that all will be well with the mental health crises that is gripping our country and filling our emergency rooms.”

“Though police officers with their new training may be better equipped at deescalating a crises situation with a mentally ill person, still, the fact remains that most of the mentally ill will end up in the jail system. There they will await state competency evaluation, if not incarcerated for a minor crime. Since the state is usually out of beds, they end up staying in jail for a long time. And let’s face it, forty hours of training is a drop in an ocean in dealing with the mentally ill. I have been a psychiatric nurse for over 36 years, 26 In corrections and at times it took all my years of training to make a situation safe. I believe it is a good start, but that’s it. I think officers should be more knowledgeable, therefore I believe college courses are in order. They should have a basis of what psychiatry and the many mental disorders are about. You cannot deescalate a paranoid schizophrenic who is hearing voices, sometimes telling him/her commands to hurt others or himself the same way you would a person suffering from a manic episode from bi-polar disorder. No two situations are ever alike, nor should be treated as such.”

“As to the PES units, again all well and good. But where are these community based programs and what do they offer and to how many? Are you going to tell me that a floridly psychotic person is going to be okay in them? I still believe that what is really needed is state run psychiatric hospitals, like we had in the past, with lock down units.”

“Crises Intervention Teams also assist police officers, but unfortunately most work banker’s hours and many are social workers who are not equipped to handle a crises situation, it is not within their realm of training. Even with psychiatric nurses available, sometimes it just takes too long to get there to diffuse an ongoing situation.”

“Also, the mentally ill have rights. I understand that in some states their charges will be dropped if they follow a program, and even if they do for a while, I can assure you most will drop out, especially if drugs are involved. I have worked psychiatric emergency units, I even worked a mobile unit where we went into condemned buildings hoping to keep the mentally ill out of the hospitals and I know many of them, if not most, do not want to take medication. “

“I don’t want to downplay what is being done, thank God something is, but again I do not want people believing that these are all the answers.”

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