Police Learn to Honor Mentally Ill Human Rights, Ending Excessive Force, Jail`
by Deborah Dupre for The Examiner:
Police have been using excessive force on mentally ill Americans and victims have become justifiably terrified they will be next to experience this human rights abuse that has turned into a $9 billion prison racket. One state, however, is implementing a new way to manage this abuse, according to news reports on Wednesday and Brave New Films has documented the disturbing old police ways as well as hopeful new results of police crisis intervention training.
Ninety-five percent of San Antonio police officers have now completed Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), a program helping officers learn how to spot mental illness symptoms and how to safely and effectively interact with someone struggling with a mental health crisis.
"Inmates in suicide-proof gowns scream and bang on their cell doors one floor below Terri McDonald’s office in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility," Bloomberg reported last month. "The bedlam is a reminder, if she needs one, that the mentally ill population in the largest U.S. jail system is out of control."
One Texan city has taken positive action to end this out-of-control system.
"People with mental illnesses, including Michelle Mata, work with the police officers to teach them how they should be treated," reported AlterNet today about the new San Antonio learning program. "Instead of putting people in handcuffs and taking them to jail, officers in San Antonio now take them to a center staffed with mental health professionals."
Mata, like other individuals with mental health issues, wants her human rights, that is, to be treated the way you would want your mom to be treated.
"She’s an aunt, and a neighbor. She likes line dancing. And she suffers from major depressive disorder with psychotic features," according to AlterNet. "When Mata has had episodes in the past, people have called the cops. The situations were scary and frustrating for everyone involved. The police didn’t know how to interact with her and she was terrified the police would use excessive force."
'Simply talking to people in crisis has proven to be effective policing'
In OverCriminalized, a new Brave New Films short film series, several San Antonio police force members report being much more confident and comfortable managing mental health crises after participating in the training.
"Most importantly, since the implementation, none of the CIT teams have used extreme force. No one has been shot or Tased; simply talking to people in crisis has proven to be effective policing."
The state of mental health services in this country is unacceptable. Instead of social workers, we have armed law enforcement officers. Instead of treatment facilities, we have prisons and jails. More than half of the people behind bars have shown recent symptoms of mental health problems. The Cook County jail in Chicago is now the biggest single-facility provider of mental health services in the country. Nearly $9 billion per year is spent locking up people struggling with mental illness; 356,368 severely mentally ill people were imprisoned in 2012 alone. (AlterNet)
Keeping a mentally ill person behind bars can cost over $50,000 annually, while treatment could run two-thirds less. Criminal justice systems from Seattle to Miami with aggressive jail-diversion efforts have cut inmate headcounts -- and lowered recidivism rates, according to Bloomberg.
The new Brave New Films video gives hope to Americans suffering mental illness, to police called to manage crises, and to families caught in the web of mentally ill loved ones needing crisis intervention, not excessive force - human rights honored, not jail.