I need a 300 word reply to the following discussion question:
In January 2021, Police Chief Magazine published an article by Ronal W. Serpas, titled “A Smarter Public Safety Model: Addressing Crises Related to Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Chronic Homelessness.” The article, in its entirety, can be found here. I found this article interesting as it talks about the historical involvement of the federal government in addressing society’s mental healthcare issues and how law enforcement’s role has expanded over time. It begins in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy recognized the responsibility of the federal government to provide mental healthcare to those suffering from mental illnesses. On October 31, 1963, he signed into law the Community Mental Health Act, which followed a promise that he made in a speech to Congress earlier that year. On February 5, Kennedy told Congress that “I am proposing a new approach to mental illness and mental retardation. This approach is designed, in large measure, to use Federal resources to stimulate State, local and private action. When carried out, reliance on the cold mercy of custodial isolation will be supplanted by the open warmth of community concern and capability. Emphasis on prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation will be substituted for a desultory interest in confining patients in an institution to wither away” (samhsa.gov). Unfortunately, it was the last bill signed by Kennedy, as he was assassinated three weeks later. But it laid the groundwork for the joined resources of private and public institutions to address mental illness. Now, years later, the United States is continuing to move further away from achieving Kennedy’s dream. This may be due to, in part, the increased responsibility of law enforcement to become the state and local government’s initial responder to deal with persons suffering a mental health crisis.
As federal, state, and local governments utilize law enforcement on the front lines in dealing with mental health patients, police stand at the convergence between behavioral health care and the criminal justice system (Wolff et al; 2014). As officers do not receive sufficient training to prepare them to deal with mental illnesses in the capacity expected by the government, and the public, they will continue to address the mental health crisis the only way they know how, which is through incarceration. Unfortunately, this response has led to mass incarcerations of mentally ill persons. The correctional institutions in Los Angeles County, New York (Rikers Island), and Cook County in Illinois are the nation’s three largest mental health providers (www.ncsc.org). This should not be surprising as studies have shown that approximately one-third of those who have a severe mental illness experience their initial contact with treatment through a law enforcement encounter (Meier 2019). The author addresses the practice of jailing people with mental health issues and the significant challenges that it causes to government entities. In short, the mass incarceration of people with mental illness causes a significant burden on police officers and corrections, as well as skyrocketing budgetary concerns for state and local governments, without, as some believe, providing a long-lasting benefit to public safety (Serpas 2021).
The article calls for a transformational public service attitude, one in which government creates a new, and funded, resource to address the complex issues of behavioral health. As community policing has brought about a change in the methodology in which police define and provide service, there should also be a continuation of that transformational mindset in dealing with behavioral disorders (Serpas 2021). This leads us to the topic of the government providing the infrastructure for communities to initiate and build a public health first responder organization. At the core of community policing philosophy is the belief that it is the community that chooses the prioritization of police functions. The author asserts that the continuation of police utilization for calls of service dealing with mental health, or substance abuse, is a misuse of resources. As citizens have called for a new response, it is the government’s responsibility to assist in providing state and local authorities the means to build a new group of properly trained first responders to deal with these calls for service. But, the author asks a series of questions for the reader to consider.
Some of those questions are:
· Will a government designate another appropriate agency staffed with health professionals as the first responders to nonviolent and low-level crime calls involving persons experiencing mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and chronic homelessness, thereby removing the first responder designation from the police and deflecting cases away from the broader criminal justice system? (Serpas 2021)
· What proactive strategy will this new first responder agency of health professionals provide before a situation escalates to the point of requiring a call for service from law enforcement? (Serpas 2021)
· How will a government ensure that the police remain readily available to assist in cases where their specific skills, training, and responsibility apply, similar to the officer’s role when supporting fire departments, EMS, and other urgent government response services? (Serpas 2021)
As society seeks an alternative to inadequately trained responses to public health issues, there is also a need for the framework of a behavioral health diversion program to be instituted in place of incarceration. In this diversion system, individuals with behavioral or mental health needs that have entered the criminal justice system need to be identified and diverted to treatment, whether it be for substance abuse or psychoactive attention (www.ncsc.org). This could prevent the person from falling deeper into the criminal justice system, from which they will have a more difficult time recovering. Diverting and providing proper corrective therapy or behavioral health counseling, may lead to diminished levels of recidivism and allow the person to become a useful member of society (www.ncsc.org). This is in stark contrast to the path of repeated incarceration where the person in crisis will not receive the proper mental health needed and be continuously subjected to housing conditions that may only cause the person’s psyche to deteriorate further. With properly trained response personnel, and protective diversion programs in place, the United States may be able to finally realize the vision set forth by President Kennedy almost six decades ago, exchanging “custodial isolation” for “community concern and capability” (samhsa.gov).
Associated Press, (2013, October 21). 50 years later: President John F. Kennedy’s vision for Mental Health in U.S. never realized. Deseret News. Retrieved January 22, 2023, from https://www.deseret.com/2013/10/21/20458258/50-years-later-president-john-f-kennedy-s-vision-for-mental-health-in-u-s-never-realized
Meier, M. (2019, May). Road runners. Treatment Advocacy Center. Retrieved January 22, 2023, from https://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/road-runners
National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Court’s Response to Mental Illness. (2021, January). Collaborative Court and community diversion for individuals with … – NCSC. Retrieved January 23, 2023, from https://www.ncsc.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/66426/Court-and-Community-Diversion.pdf
Reflecting on JFK’s legacy of community-based care. SAMHSA. (2021, March 8). Retrieved January 22, 2023, from https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/jfks-legacy-community-based-care#:~:text=Making%20Progress%20in%20Mental%20Health&text=He%20replied%3A,Mental%20Health%20Act%20in%201963.
Serpas, R. W. (2021, January). Policechiefmagazine.org. Retrieved January 22, 2023, from https://www.policechiefmagazine.org/smarter-public-safety-model/?ref=0eb5910188ea35203cc6154331cd15b6
Wolff, N., Watson, A. C., Babcock, W., Bittner, E., Borum, R., Bower, D. L., Braithwaite, J., Brantingham, P. L., Burris, S., Compton, M. T., Cordner, G., Crofts, N., Draine, J., Dupont, R., Eck, J. E., Evans, A. C., Goldstein, H., Hails, J., Hartford, K., … Murphy, K. (2014, March 13). Beyond police crisis intervention: Moving “upstream” to manage cases and places of behavioral health vulnerability. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. Retrieved January 22, 2023, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0160252714000272#preview-section-snippets