Fast Focus: How can we improve mental health care in the Tri-Cities? Unneeded incarceration

May 12, 2013 

Mental health care in the Tri-Cities is woefully inadequate. Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, this is an ideal time to address one of the most glaring problems concerning mental illness in our community: using is incarceration as a makeshift solution for what should be treated as a major health issue.

A little history is in order. The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 led to the closing of the old insane asylums with the intent that these services would be addressed at the community level. Since then, thankfully, many with an illness have been able to medicate and lead normal lives due to the support services provided within a community. However, too many with a mental illness have been housed in jails -- and this is especially true in our own Tri-Cities community.

As a community we can and must do better. Several solutions would reduce this practice. First, we can establish a mental health court where offenders with misdemeanors could find treatment rather than incarceration. Secondly, we can establish a mental health triage center or a community mental health services center where the ill person could be assessed and treated properly rather than be booked into jail.

If these two initiatives were introduced into our community, it would be a win-win solution for everybody. Jail costs could be significantly reduced and the humane treatment of those with an illness could better be addressed.

-- NAN BOPP, Richland

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