Fewer than half the U.S. population lives in communities where the most basic methods of diverting people with severe mental illness from the criminal justice system are being used, according to a new study by the Treatment Advocacy Center.
A full one-third of the nation’s states get a D or F grade for using mental health courts and crisis intervention teams (CIT) – diversion programs proven to reduce the criminalization of mental illness, the study found.
“People with untreated psychiatric disease should be getting the treatment they need before law enforcement shows up at their door because of behaviors caused by their illness,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director.
“Assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) is a proven best practice to keep high-risk individuals from encountering police in the first place. Until more jurisdictions start actively using AOT to reduce criminal justice involvement, mental health courts and CIT are the best available options to reduce the criminalization of mental illness. The failure to use these basic tactics is a disservice to both the individuals who would benefit and to their communities.”
Mental health courts divert qualifying non-violent criminal defendants from jail into community-based mental health treatment. Crisis intervention teams consist of specially trained officers who respond to service calls involving mental illness. Both programs have consistently been found to reduce the arrest and incarceration of individuals with severe mental illness.
Nationwide, less than 40% of the U.S. population lives in jurisdictions with mental health courts, and only 49% lives where police departments are using CIT, according to “Prevalence of Mental Health Diversion Practices: A Survey of the States.”
At the top of the class, Utah and Arizona were the only states serving at least 75% of their populations with both mental health courts and CIT. At the bottom, receiving Fs, were 10 states where less than 20% of the population has access to these diversionary practices.
SEE WHERE YOUR STATE RANKS: Read “Prevalence of Mental Health Diversion Practices: A Survey of States” on our website.